Pocket the smartphone and get back to basics with a little face-to-face

One of the things I love most about my job, or any job in public relations, is the spontaneity. Most days are fairly routine: writing, researching, interviewing, pitching…you know the drill. But there are those times when opportunities are presented to get involved with your community, meet new people, make connections and open your eyes.

I recently had one of those days. I’m working on follow up pieces for grants given to local businesses and non-profits by our client Walmart. Dress for Success Indianapolis, an affiliate of the national Dress for Success organization, is one of the recipients. They graciously invited me to their office to take a look around and get one-on-one background for the piece I’ll be writing. My thinking was “a few hours away from the desk? I’ll take it!” 

I’ll admit, I thought Dress for Success Indianapolis was simply a place women could go to get second hand dress clothes when they were in need. Was I ever wrong. Dress for Success Indianapolis has three programs, designed to help women from the start of their job search to becoming self sufficient and in a career they enjoy and are proud of. The process can take years and the staff and volunteers at Dress for Success Indianapolis are there every step of the way. The visit ended up being less of a break from the office, and more of an inspiration.

As far as the boutique goes, you shouldn’t expect to find old or outdated hand-me-down clothing. While nearly all of it is donated, Dress for Success Indianapolis is picky with what they put on their shelves, as they should be. It’s not about making sure a woman simply has appropriate attire. It’s about making a woman feel confident and beautiful, from their makeup down to their shoes (both of which Dress for Success Indianapolis offers).

As a poor college student, I’ve felt the burn of having to purchase dress clothes. No one was kidding when they said that it’s expensive to look nice, especially in the workplace. I found out during my visit that it’s not just women in poverty who are able to use Dress for Success’ services. Many college students are referred to them upon graduation, when the job search begins but before you have the means to dress for the real world.

One out of four female-headed households in Indiana is in poverty, a figure that is unacceptable to me. I applaud Dress for Success Indianapolis in their efforts to help more than 1,000 women per year better their lives and their futures. The follow up work they do for years after someone is referred to them is key to making sure women don’t fall through the wide cracks that are around every turn.

Becoming self sufficient is a process that takes 5-7 years, and it’s not easy. Many times it takes encouragement to get back on the horse, especially if you’ve fallen a few times. The mentors at Dress for Success Indianapolis are there to make sure the women don’t give up. What started out as a follow up for a client ended up being an enriching experience.

Sometimes it’s important for us to take a step back from the computers, cell phones and social networking sites and look at what’s going on around us in our own communities. My job as a public relations intern afforded me that opportunity; just another reason why I love the nature of this profession.

Only SOME of the clothes in the boutique

Shoes upon shoes

I was pleasantly surprised to learn they even provide accessories for the women

Dress for Success Indianapolis office, located downtown


How Shank Public Relations Counselors got hot with the hot sauce

In our business we use all sorts of fancy words – product segmentation, brand differentiation, market identity – all mean essentially the same thing: What can we do to make our prospects and future clients and customers remember us?

That’s what we were looking for when we discovered a small New Orleans hot products company. We could have fun with their products, they were relevant to our brand, everyone (OK, nearly everyone) likes hot sauce, they were cost effective, memorable, you could put the bottles in your coat pocket, purse or brief case, they were memorable (yes, I said that before) and cost effective.

So began our friendship with our private branded hot stuff provider eight or nine years ago. We enjoyed, and our friends, clients and prospects enjoyed, our products ranging from the liquid hot sauce to wasabe’-coated cashews.

And then nothing.  And that nothing was caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Our supplier was literally blown out of NOL.

Flash forward to 2010.  On a cold winter day one of our account managers gets the call: “Hi, I’m Fred, your hot sauce guy and I want to tell you we’re back in business in Texas.”

Sure, it’s little more than an ounce, a really good ounce, of hot sauce. But it’s much more than that.  Each time I dribble a drop of our hot sauce on a taco, or in gazpacho, or on BBQ I think of a company in New Orleans who survived with perseverance, and tenacity and a hot idea.

Can a public relations person unplug?

A pivotal part of the public relations profession is staying in the know. Twitter, Facebook, blogs and news sites are constantly checked, as we are responsible for knowing, well, everything.

So what happens when a PR pro wants to take the kids camping or spend a quiet evening with the significant other? Can you safely ignore the news feeds for a few hours? What if something breaks about your client and you miss it? Worse, what if Kimye breaks up and you aren’t the first to post about it?

All of this leads me to the question, can a public relations guru ever safely “unplug?”

Last month I took a few days off to go to Bonaroo in Tennessee. Between the live awesome bands, I wandered the camp grounds with my phone in the air searching for reception. Surrounded by hippies, I was a rarity.

After not having service for four days I came home to 64 work emails, 27 personal emails, six Facebook notifications, five new Twitter followers and one direct message.

As an intern my internet absence was doable, but for a professional I’m not so sure it could have been done. We are responsible for the well being of our clients including evenings and weekends. We’re expected to be on call, on point and most of all knowledgeable. We are, after all, counselors…24/7.

It is necessary and valuable to check out every once in a while. A clear head can produce better work. Find ways to blow off steam without putting yourself off the grid. Take that camping trip with the family, but make sure a trusted colleague can stand in for you or you can be reached in case of an emergency.

The unexpectedness of the profession keeps me interested. It bothers me more to be disconnected than the idea that my time is not necessarily all my own. There is a fine line that PR people must dance upon, and it sits between being a workaholic and not good at your job. Love it or leave it, that’s the nature of public relations.

 By Noelle Pickler, Intern

Employment Opportunity: Seeking New Account Associate

It’s a great way to learn the business from the best…become an Account Associate with Shank Public Relations Counselors!  We’re looking for a great generalist who’s a strong writer, thinks strategically, and can produce anything and everything from newspaper pieces to WordPress sites.  Read the job description in our Newsroom.

Check us out at www.shankpr.com and www.facebook.com/shankprcounselors.

Resume Mistakes Exposed – Making it past the first stage

Part of my job at Shank Public Relations Counselors is to coordinate the internship program. As a recent intern, I understand the pressure and excitement that comes with applying for your first real internship at a real company. But with applying for big kid jobs comes the responsibility to make a good “viral” first impression. If you don’t make a good, professional first impression with your cover letter and resume, there won’t be a face-to-face first impression.

Two things I’ve noticed in the resumes we receive for intern and permanent positions: The first is my biggest pet peeve that your professors would probably slap you on the wrist for – writing “To Whom It May Concern” on your cover letter or email. Those are five words that should never be strung together.

Research the company and address your cover letter and emails to someone appropriate. When I see “To Whom It May Concern” on a cover letter, I instantly think it is not my problem if they weren’t really concerned with finding a real name that may be concerned about their application. (Did you follow that?) The worst thing is when you knowingly email someone but still address it to no one. If you knew my email you should know my name. If you can’t find the specific person, address the letter to the CEO/President. To me, that’s better than no one because it shows you did at least a minute worth of research.

After reading dozens of applications I started to pick up on similarities. I’m aware that you applied to multiple companies. That’s fine and a good idea. But don’t make it so obvious that you simply filled in the blanks (i.e., our company address at the top and our company name at the beginning and at the end). Caught ya! Make each cover letter and resume unique!

A deal killer is not editing and including another company name in your cut and paste letter that’s not us!  You will not get a call, email or interview.

Aside from doing research on the company and making it clear you know who we are and what we do, go ahead and use phrases and keywords from the job description in your cover letter and resume. While it may seem like cheating, using similar wording is a good idea. First, it shows that you actually read the job description and secondly, sometimes computers are the first to read your material and they will pass you through based on the number of keywords you used.

Working on just those two items will improve your applications more than you know. It’s a competitive market out there, and you need to make sure you are doing what you can to stand out! SHOW us you know what’s going on.

For other resume tips check out our website.

By Julie Stutzman, Account Associate

Edgy vs. Cautious: Knowing your clients’ risk tolerance

We were up against the deadline for a client’s e-newsletter a few weeks ago.  The copy for a highly technical article had been reviewed by the client and one attorney, but we had not heard back from two other experts we’d asked to review.

“What do you think we should do?” the client asked.

It was a flattering question, because it mattered to him what I thought.  But I had to supply the right answer for him, not me. As I thought about my response, the experience “tape” running through my brain reminded me this is one of the most cautious, risk-averse clients with whom I work.  In their business, they should be cautious and risk-averse.

What is most important to them?  Being first to the market with important information?  Or holding the information a little longer and knowing they have every detail right?

I immediately had my answer: We can’t run the article until we hear back from all four experts and have every detail confirmed.  Being excruciatingly correct matters more than being on schedule in this case.

Risk is a funny thing. 

When developing creative concepts for clients, we should give them at least one idea that’s beyond their comfort zone. Why would they ask for new concepts if all they wanted was predictable “been there, done that” thinking?  We always include a few “comfortable” plans that are perfectly good options.

A productive, meaningful conversation usually arises when we discuss the “out there” options, even if one isn’t selected:  “What’s the downside of this?  And then, what’s the upside? that we’d get noticed? that we’d be perceived as a creative leader in our industry?”

Some clients want to be edgy.  My “out there” recommendations for them would be different than for the risk-averse client.

Likewise, my decision might have been different if my risk-averse client was facing the 6 p.m. TV news: make the deadline, but pare down your message to the facts we’re sure of.

We’re fortunate to have long experience with many of our clients – in fact, sometimes we have more institutional knowledge of the company than our client-contact person!

That experience allows us to inherently know each client’s values along the way, understand how they make decisions, and apply their success metrics.  Knowing who’s edgy and who’s cautious is a tremendous asset for high stakes decisions.

By Marilyn Shank, Vice President