Archive for September, 2009

By Alicia Wells

It’s mid-point review season for our Peppercom interns, where we check on their progress so far and make sure they’re getting the most out of their internship.  We speak with supervisors on their individual account teams to find out the things they’re doing well and how they can continue to improve, and how this stacks up with how the intern thinks he or she is doing.

While all companies have their own review process, here are some general tips for preparing for a performance review that you may find helpful in your PR careers:

  • Assess your own strengths and weaknesses and come prepared with examples of your stellar performance, and how you’ve continued to work on any shortcomings.  We’ll likely have heard examples from your supervisors of your great work, but in case they missed something it’s a good idea for you to be ready to chime in.  On the flip side, we all make mistakes and need to constantly improve our skills, so showing that you have recognized this and are making efforts to continuously improve will go a long way.
  • Hopefully you’ve been given an opportunity to pitch to the media.  Come with some examples of pitching you’ve done, whether it’s email, phone, or even editorial calendar follow-up.  It all counts and shows that you’re willing to learn and jump in on what’s a major part of our business.  If you haven’t done any pitching, don’t be afraid to ask your reviewer for advice on which opportunities you can get involved in or who may be willing to let you “pitch” in (sorry, that pun was intended).
  • While it may be too late at this point, it’s smart to check in with your individual supervisors on your own in an informal manner, just to get a sense of how you’re doing and any advice they have for improvements.  Not only will they appreciate the initiative, they may have some helpful insights for you before you even get to the review stage.  If you’re getting your review soon, trying checking in a month from now to get updated feedback from your direct supervisors.

For those of you who have been through the review process, what other advice or tips can you offer?  And for those yet to receive one, let us know if you have any questions on how to prepare.


Q&A Friday: Sara Whitman

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Sara Whitman started at Peppercom as an intern ten years ago, and today is a Senior Director.  She manages a mix of consumer and corporate accounts, and also handles staff management for the New York office and agency recruiting.

Q. You started at Peppercom as an intern- what do you think has contributed to your success?
A. Determination: I’ve always set the bar high for myself and I aim to outperform my own expectations. There’s nothing like a sense of self-accomplishment and taking pride in your work.
Dedication: I love Peppercom. I love the culture, the teams, and the work.  I don’t want to let anyone down and I like striving to do the best work I can for our clients and for us as an agency. We have a great reputation as a firm and I want to add to that as much as I can.
Flexibility: This is on my part and on Peppercom’s part. It’s a give and take. I put everything I can into my work. In turn (and actually well before I even knew what I was doing in this industry), Peppercom offers amazing flexibility. I have a wonderful family and am able to raise my kids the way I want because of the flexibility I have at Peppercom. It’s the best of both worlds. In this same category of flexibility though is something I think is very important. I really do look at what we do as teamwork – both within the agency, with our clients and with the media (or should I say external audiences given the fragmented and dwindling media) – and I think I’m a decent team player. I’m not in this for the glory – if I am, I’m in the wrong business! I’m most satisfied when I know the work was done well, the team scored killer results and the client is thrilled. There’s a lot of expectation and entitlement I see and hear about among industry employees. That’s an attitude people need to check at the door.

Q. What do you look for in entry-level candidates?
A. An avid learner: This business requires the ability to grasp many different subject matters very quickly. You have to live, eat and breathe the clients’ business and a love of learning is essential. It also provides a great base for strategic thinking and planning.
A news junkie: Going hand in hand with that is being a news junkie. Wanting to know about what’s going on in the world of business, politics, culture, society, entertainment, etc. is critical. We have to align the news of our clients with the news of the world and a person in this business has to be able to connect the dots. A natural love for the news should be a given.
A strong writer: The number one complaint I hear from management and from clients is that writing is not as strong as it could be. The industry tends to attract really smart, outgoing people who, for some reason or another, have a tough time with clear, concise and compelling writing. Some of that can be learned, but without a strong core, it’s very difficult.
Has a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude: I like people who will do what it takes to get the job done – big or small. Those who are resourceful and can figure out how to make things happen are indispensable. Negativity and defeatism don’t breed success.

Q. What are you most proud of professionally?
A. There are so many things I’m proud of that have involved so many people. I’m proud that I’m still here after 10 years! I’m really proud of some of the long-standing client relationships I have. I’m incredibly proud of being able to say I’m part of a firm that has had so many external successes with clients – but even more proud that I was part of helping to build the team to make that happen. I’m proud that a significant chunk of our staff are people who also started at Peppercom as interns or JAEs. That’s a huge accomplishment that we should all be proud of.

Q. What one piece of advice do you have for those just starting their careers in PR?
A. Think about your professional network from day one. The people you meet and help out now can become people who will do the same for you later. You never know where people will wind up and what doors they might open for you in the future.


Senior Year, Episode One

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The following is the first in a series of guest posts from Stacey Davidson, who interned with Peppercom in the summer of 2009.  Stacey has just started her senior year at the University of Florida, and will share with us her experiences in job searching and finishing up her college career.

I came back to school only a few days after leaving New York and was faced with the reality that my college years are quickly coming to a close.  I have two semesters left as a student at the University of Florida. Yup, that’s it. Only two more required classes, a few hours of elective credit, one football season and a lot of job searching to go. I’m teetering between two worlds right now. At Peppercom, I was fully engulfed in the “real world” of a public relations agency. I know what it’s like to work on tight deadlines and report to clients. But at UF, I’m still a student, still working towards getting my undergraduate degree.

My goal this year is to merge these two worlds. I want to become the best student and job candidate that I can be before I leave Gainesville in May and venture out on my own. Hopefully, through my posts, I can help you also set yourself up for success in finding an internship and become a great PR student along the way.

The first thing I learned this year that will help me to become a better job candidate is the need for strategy behind every public relations tactic. Previously, I had taken classes in PR research and strategy and have also implemented PR campaigns for various campus organizations, but never did this thought hit home as much as in my PR graphic design class this week.

For this class, I am responsible for creating a visual PR campaign for a local business near UF. This campaign will include a full Web site, a banner ad, a flier and brochure as well as a few other tactics of my choice. I am excited to learn more about Photoshop, InDesign and Web site design programs, but I am just beginning to realize what a tough job this will be. My client, The Bagel Bakery, has never had a Web site before, so I am starting from scratch.

Whenever I thought of Web sites in the past, I always just assumed that the layout and art were based on the personal preference of the designer or PR agency team. I am coming to realize, however, that personal preference will get you nowhere in PR design. Every part of a Web site or flier is carefully thought out and strategic. The colors, text, shape and layout design are all scrutinized and chosen based on the preferences of the target audience. For instance, lavender is a color mainly used when targeting senior-citizen women, while orange is the color most disliked by people older than 60. It’s so interesting to me that even the smallest change can have a huge impact on the success or failure of a Web site and PR campaign.

As I begin my job search this semester, I will keep this strategy in mind. Even the little things, such as the font on my resume, or the wording of my cover letter, could be the difference between landing an interview and being tossed into the growing pile of potential candidates.

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” –John Wooden


How to Say “No”

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Guest post by Carolyn Fraser, Peppercom Intern

This past Wednesday marked the one month anniversary of my internship at Peppercom. I’ve already aligned myself with the culture, vision and work ethic of the company and have finally gotten into my “work groove.” My experience here has been very positive and challenging (I love challenges) so far and as my work experience expands, so does my workload. A full workload means that my teams depend on me to accomplish a task, which in turn benefits the team and the client. As basic as our job may seem, we interns play a crucial role that contributes to the success of the team- the “cog in the wheel” analogy.

However, there is a fine line between having a full workload and being overwhelmed. If you have a full workload of “end-of-day” assignments and an account member asks you to take on another assignment, should you accept or decline? If you accept, then you will cross over the line to Overwhelmed Land, but if you say no, you fear it will come off as though you can’t handle the task. Whatever you do, just make sure you don’t say “no.” I’m not saying that you can’t put a spin on it, just don’t say the actual word “no.”

Instead, if you find yourself in limbo between accepting or simply declining an assignment, here are a few simple suggestions to steer you away from saying “no”:

  • Multi-task: As an intern, you must be comfortable with multi-tasking and managing your time effectively. Working on a few different accounts requires you to constantly switch gears and stay on top of a number of responsibilities. If you’re able to put off one assignment and switch to new assignments as needed, it may be wise to do so.
  • Prioritize: Realistically, some assignments are more important or urgent than others. Assess your assignments in regards to their due date, length of time spent on project, importance of project, etc. and tackle them accordingly.
  • Assess Workload/Know Limit: If you have a few different projects due EOD, it wouldn’t be wise to accept another project that is due EOD. However, you can ask if the project can wait until the next day so that you can still work on it. This shows your willingness to help out and take on the responsibility.

Once you’ve done all of the aforementioned and still can’t find the time to help, you may have to say “not now,” but never say “no.” Be sure to let your account member know that you have too many assignments due and don’t want to commit to something you cannot successfully complete. You can also offer your assistance when you’re finished. As an intern you will have to make decisions that can affect you in either a positive or negative way. If you are ever in a situation (which will happen) where you will have to say yes or no, always remember: there is no such thing as “no.”


Yes, networking really does work

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By Alicia Wells

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that talks about how extreme job-hunting techniques, like announcing your career search on a sandwich board tied around your neck, don’t always work.  What does?  Networking.  The article describes the lesson learned by one of the former extreme job hunters:

“Mr. Williamson now considers personal contacts crucial during a job search—especially in a highly anonymous city like New York.”

We’ve all heard it time and time again, but it’s worth repeating.  It’s much easier to find a job when you have a personal connection.  Case in point: Before starting my career at Peppercom, I applied to an entry-level position at another New York PR firm.  I responded to the company’s online posting for the job, and a couple of weeks later still had not heard anything (which was the case for the other 100 or so online postings I responded to).  I then found out that I had a connection- a friend of a friend- who worked at the company.  He gave my resume to the HR department, and the next day they called me for an interview.  Just the simple act of my resume being handed directly to HR from someone on the inside improved my chances of getting the job.

So how do you network?  There are many ways of going about it:

  • Join PRSA or other professional organizations and attend their networking events.  Some of the events are open to non-members as well.
  • Volunteer for a local charity or non-profit and network with your fellow volunteers.
  • Attend alumni events for your school.
  • Set up informational interviews with alumni in your school’s database that work in your field.
  • Join LinkedIn and some of the groups related to PR or job hunting (The Public Relations and Communications Jobs Community is a good one).
  • Join Twitter to connect directly with the employees and hiring managers at your target organizations.

These ideas are just a drop in the networking bucket.  What are some other tips for networking?



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