Archive for August, 2009


Q&A Friday: Jackie Kolek

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Jackie Kolek is senior director at Peppercom, where she provides overall strategic direction and account management for several of the firm’s key clients, and leads PepperDigital, Peppercom’s social media consulting offering.

Q. You lead PepperDigital.  What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned in that endeavor?
A. Listen first.  You can’t just build a blog, Web site or launch any other digital effort (Twitter, Flickr, etc.) without first really listening to your target audience.  You need to hear what they are saying and where, and then tap into that existing dialogue.   It’s really not surprising when you think how we attack traditional media as well – first you read what a reporter is writing and then try to tap into their interest base.  This is even more critical with it comes to digital media.

Q. What qualities make a young PR professional stand out to you?
A. Being proactive and polished.  It’s really important that young PR professionals take the steps necessary to get the information they need to do their jobs.  Too often, someone is confused or unsure and they wait for someone to come to them.  Those that ask a lot of questions, come up with new ideas to do things better or different and show a genuine interest in our accounts are the ones that shine.  Likewise, I need to feel confidence that I can out them in front of a client.  Those who are too quiet scare me.

Q. What was one of the biggest mistakes you made in your young career?
A. Focusing too much on getting promoted.  A career is a journey and you need to focus on doing great work, the rest of it will come.

Q. What one piece of advice do you have for those just starting their careers in PR?
A. Read, read and read!  You have to read all kinds of things – magazines, books, newspapers, blogs, etc.  Not only will it make you better at your media relations skills, it improves your writing and also enables you to have conversations with all different kinds of people.


True Story

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By Alicia Wells

Here’s a quick lesson on how not to get hired. My colleague was conducting a phone interview with a candidate and found out, midway through the conversation, the candidate was in fact on the floor of our building. Coincidence? Unfortunately, no.

This individual, who goes to a nearby college, thought it’d be a good idea to replace the phone screen with an in-person interview, in an “I’m right outside your window” scenario. But you think that’s bad? When we sat him down, he taught another good lesson: getting an A+ for brutal honesty is never a good idea. When asked if he wanted to pursue a career in public relations, he said, “Nope, don’t care, I just want to get paid.”

I’d say it was a waste of time, but what a great story we got out of it.


Q&A Friday- Ted Birkhahn

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By Alicia Wells

This is the first in a series of interviews with PR professionals who share their perspective on their careers and the world of entry-level PR.  Ted Birkhahn is Peppercom’s chief operating officer and is in charge of client services, working with several others to lead new business development and integrating Peppercom’s three offices.  Before joining Peppercom, Ted was the Press Secretary for the New York City Department of Buildings in Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration. Previously, he worked as a reporter at WOR-AM Radio and as a production assistant at 1010 WINS Radio in New York City. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Ted plays hockey and considers himself obsessed with WWII.

Q. How do you determine potential in the entry-level candidates you interview?
A. A lot of it has to do with chemistry coupled with relevant experience and expertise. While the latter two are critical, chemistry will often make or break the deal.

Q. What is one mistake or misstep you most often see young professionals make?
A. The biggest misstep is when they’re in a hurry to advance. Ambition is great but it has to be grounded in reality. When a young professional becomes obsessed with getting a promotion, they often become totally distracted and the work suffers. Staying focused on the work and providing value to the organization is still — and will always be — the fastest route to promotion.

Q. What has been your greatest accomplishment professionally?
A. Finding a career path that I enjoy — one that is challenging, fun and affords me enough time to be with my family.

Q. What one piece of advice do you have for those just starting their careers in PR?
A. As hard as it may sound, use the recession to your advantage. If you can get things accomplished in this type of an economy, you can do anything. If approached in the right way, challenging times have a way of making you a stronger person and professional.


The following is the second in a series of posts from Brooke Winebrenner, a recent graduate of Western Kentucky University.

Before I set off looking for what I would like to call “my big girl job” or more appropriate my first job as an entry-level PR practitioner, I thoroughly evaluated my portfolio to make sure I included valuable samples that highlighted my knowledge, strengths and capabilities. Fortunately, during my final days at WKU one of my PR professors provided an outline that specified important areas that should be included in a PR portfolio. I feel it is important that every entry-level PR professional should make a checklist for themselves to assess their work and make sure they have covered every area.

I want to share with you my guideline, which included the core knowledge, skills and acumen recommended by the Commission of Public Relations Education in their research publication, The Professional Bond: Public Relations Education for the 21st Century. While the report was published in 2006, the advice still holds true.  This matrix and evaluation focuses on what the industry has consistently said to academia when asked the question, “What kind of things do you look for in a new hire?”

The answer and four pillars are as follows:

Writing- The need for great communicators has never been more important. Even with immense attention directed towards emerging technologies, the ability to communicate through the written word will remain a staple of good PR for many years to come. Entry-level PR professionals must demonstrate to potential employers, first and foremost, their ability to communicate.

(Writing samples might include news releases, opinion pieces, speeches, memos, letters, reports, proposals, executive summaries, feature stories, position paper, advertising copy, newsletters, and brochures).

Research- More essential than ever is the need for solid research skills and the ability to interpret and use research in decision-making. Professionals must be capable of conducting research, analyzing and interpreting data and information, integrating research into planning and management, and conducting evaluation that demonstrates results.

(Research samples might include primary and secondary research done in support of a PR campaign, secondary methods research or theory outlines, and informal background research done in support of a specific writing assignment).

Technology- Technology is changing the face of public relations. Moreover, it’s providing unprecedented opportunity for the PR practitioner to demonstrate incremental value to clients and corporations. In the practice of public relations, technologies will be a key point of differentiation for future PR practitioners.

(Use of technology samples might include blog posts, website creation, management and updates, web video, social media utilization and management, and monitoring techniques such as online clipsheet management and blog tracking).

Strategic Thinking- Great ideas are the gold standard of the profession. Potential employers have consistently identified strategic acumen as a key differentiator when making hiring decisions, especially at the advanced level.

(Strategic thinking samples might include PR campaign planning and execution, client work completed during an internship, or strategic planning done in support of a classroom assignment).

I hope this will help to jump-start your portfolio review. As soon as PR becomes your career choice, you should be thinking about what needs to be done to bring yourself up to the next level. Building a portfolio is one of the first steps in this process.

Please feel free to add any other useful portfolio tips in the comments.

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The Art of Follow-Up

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By Alicia Wells

Alison Green over at Ask A Manager has been talking a lot about the rudeness of hiring managers who don’t get back to candidates after an interview.  It got me to thinking about how important follow-up is in the job search, both for the interviewers and interviewees.  I think we (the Peppercom intern committee) do a good job of letting candidates know our decisions once they’ve been made, but can understand how frustrating it could be to have to wait for a response.  There are a lot of elements that go into the decision making process so it can sometimes take a while to get back to everyone we’ve interviewed.  I always feel bad knowing that the candidates are anxiously awaiting a response and wish that there was something I could do to speed up the process.

On the other hand, I think even more tricky is how candidates follow-up with the interviewer.  We all know how important sending thank you notes is (bonus points for handwritten cards), but the worst mistake you can make is to send a thank you with typos in it.  Ick.

Every hiring manager will have their preferences on how and when they like to be contacted regarding a decision.  I think it’s fair to check in if it’s been a few days or a week longer than the interviewer said it would be.  For example, if they tell you that it will be two weeks before they decide, I think it’s acceptable to send an email a few days into the following week after their given date.  Or, if they tell you it will be a couple of months, try checking in a month into that time period to give them an update on what you’ve been up to (in a professional, unassuming way).  Don’t be too aggressive or follow-up more than once or twice, that will just annoy the interviewer.

Some other tips to keep in mind:

  • Unless otherwise specified, email is typically a better way to follow-up than phone (less intrusive).
  • Stand out from the crowd.  After her interview, one of our current interns sent me a Direct Message on Twitter with a link to an article she had pitched and placed in her local newspaper.  It definitely got my attention.
  • I can’t say it enough, make sure ALL of your written communication with an interviewer is flawless.  This is true in every industry, but particularly in PR, where we’re expected to constantly communicate via email with clients, superiors, the media, etc.

Any other good tips for following-up after an interview?

Categories : Internship, Interviewing, PR
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Intern Video

To find out more about life as a Peppercom intern, check out this YouTube video produced by former Peppercomm interns who share their experiences. Click Here