Archive for September, 2010


Q&A Friday: Deborah Brown

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Deb Brown has been with Peppercom for over ten years and is currently a partner and managing director of strategic development.

Q. Earlier this week, Wall Street Journal released a study saying nearly 50% of new hires within the PR agencies surveyed were once undergraduate interns at the same company.  What can a PR intern do to make an impression on senior management?

A. First of all, this study underscores why internships are so important in the first place. Not only could a college student be hired by the company where he/she interned, but the student will also make important contacts.  I’m always amazed at college students who  think internships are an “option” while they’re in school.  Now, to answer your question…PR interns can make an impression by writing well (press releases, pitch letters, memos, etc.), securing placements, developing creative pitches on their own, demonstrating enthusiasm and asking where they can help.  Interns need to show that they’re smart, are paying attention to the news, and are an asset to the company/agency.

Q. What skills do you believe are most important for up-and-coming PR professionals to develop?

A. Up-and-coming PR professionals need to focus on developing strong writing and verbal skills.  They need to write well, speak clearly, articulate their points and be succinct.

Q. Care to divulge one of the biggest mistakes you made earlier in your career?

A. I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes along the way.  However, one that comes to mind took place when I was the PR Director for Bideawee, the animal shelter located in Manhattan, Wantagh, Long Island and Westhampton, Long Island. Both Wantagh and Westhampton have pet cemeteries.  Each year, both cemeteries, on the same day, hold moving ceremonies for the pet owners.  As PR Director, I needed to find the appropriate ministers to preside over the ceremonies.  I knew one minister quite well, and I assigned him to Westhampton.  I could trust him, and I wasn’t going to be present at that ceremony. I was needed at the ceremony in Wantagh.  Through a recommendation, I hired a second minister and explained to him what the day was about, what he should focus on, etc.  Rather than providing a heartwarming sermon for the grieving pet owners, he basically told them that they were “stupid” for grieving over animals.  Oh, boy.  I definitely learned not to trust anyone from that point forward and to make sure that I review and approve all speeches, etc. ahead of time.

Q. How has the PR landscape changed since you first started at Peppercom?

A. It’s more challenging  to get the attention of reporters/producers since many are stretched.  In the past, you could meet a reporter or producer for coffee or lunch and understand what they’re working on, even brainstorm story ideas together.  Social media and the 24/7 news cycle have also changed the landscape.  It’s important for PR professionals to consistently stay on top of the news and also be “listening” to what customers and others are saying about their clients.

Q. What one piece of advice do you have for those just starting their careers in PR?

A. If you didn’t graduate yet, do at least one internship if not more.  If you’re just starting out at an agency or company, learn as much as you can about your clients/the company, read the news every day, and always go that extra mile.  Ask questions if you don’t know the answer.  Be passionate about your work.

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One Intern’s Winding Road to PR

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Guest post by Laura Bedrossian, Peppercom intern

Where do you go when you have a B.A. in history and a minor in political science? It’s not the first degree combo that comes to mind when thinking of working in public relations.

So how did I get here? It may seem like I have gotten lost on my way from the library somehow ending up in Manhattan. But the truth—and less realistic version—is that it was much more deliberate . . . sort of.

I may not have a degree in communications, journalism, or public relations, but that does not count me out for a job in those fields.

Just think of my major; it is research heavy and writing intensive. I can write a 30 page research paper completely on the fly—not that I ever did that in school.

From being very involved in my college’s student newspaper, to running my school’s history club, to working at multiple internships (all dorky historical type things), I planned on going to grad school for history.

Soon after graduating I started freelancing for some local publications, which hired me because I had clips from my student newspaper. But what really changed things for me was the day I went to volunteer at a group dealing with ending domestic violence. I thought I would just be doing some type of clerical work or answering a hotline, but they asked for a resume, and then asked me to work as an intern in their PR department based on my prior writing experience.

The more I worked at this internship, the more I liked what I was doing. So PR was where I was headed, or at least to see if could hack it.

Months later I was asked by a company to edit a few documents for them. One of the papers I was editing was a contract for an upcoming event. When I asked what they were doing to promote it, they replied with “Uh, putting up flyers?” Well, that did not fly with me! So I provided them with unsolicited brainstorming and gave them some quick ideas for them to get some attention from the media. It worked well enough for me that I was able to stick with them for two years.

The next logical step for me was to learn from a PR firm (Thank you, Peppercom!) instead of the array of books I purchased to try and teach myself. And while my road was a little windy getting here, I certainly have many different experiences to draw from on my resume. They are all experiences that have gotten me to each step in my life.

Basically, don’t count yourself out of PR because of your major, especially if you can spin it to your advantage (though I will always be partial to fellow history lovers). And NEVER underestimate the importance of prior experience; it can be a crucial attention grabber to employers.

PR professionals- How can applicants better demonstrate prior experience and learned skills as relevant to the current position during the interview? How do they make the connection?

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This post features Ray Carroll – Peppercom gatekeeper, dispenser of snacks, and PepperDigital guest blogger.

At one point or another, all PR students will find themselves sitting patiently in a quiet lobby, nervously waiting to be called into an office for an internship or entry-level position interview. More often than not, jobseekers take this time to review notes or stare at the television monitor streaming news silently in front of them- but in those few moments before the first handshake, it can become clear who will have what it takes by observing those small details and characteristics not found within the lines of a resume.

If you need to be convinced, just ask our very own Ray, who has seen his fair share of candidates pass through Peppercom’s doors (including yours truly 7 months ago). Below he shares his thoughts on the shy, the successful, the scantily clad and how to put your best face forward for your interview:

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Job:

I saw one candidate dressed as if they were going clubbing, with too form fitting of an outfit.  Regardless of misconceptions made popular in such TV shows as “The Spin Crowd,” our industry should be treated as business and not a runway show, even if it is fashion week. Body language and appropriate attire for an interview, as far as I’m concerned, are just as important as how you respond during questions.  How professionally one conducts themselves usually begins with good presentation.  Image is everything.

Engage the Audience:

I have noticed that some personalities shine more than others – meaning, some immediately establish a rapport with me through conversation– but I assume that’s what we’re looking for in candidates.   It’s clear these stand-outs command attention, converse effectively and can ‘work’ a room.  Not surprisingly, they were hired.

Confidence is Key:

Confidence is important too.  Those who strike a conversation with me while waiting to be interviewed, exude natural confidence.  Others who are quiet, I presume, are a bit unnerved by the situation.

Mind your Manners:

Proper etiquette is usually customary for well rounded individuals and makes people feel comfortable.  Demeanor and poise are priceless commodities, but overconfidence interpreted as arrogance is unappealing.


Q&A Friday: Richard Ouyang

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Richard Ouyang is Associate Director of Digital Strategy here at Peppercom.  You can find more of his digital musings here or follow him here.

Q. What drew you to digital and social media?

A. I like the innovation that it enables.  Just about anything you can dream up in online technology can be created and I find that exciting. Social media is how people communicate, but more than the platform is finding compelling ways to participate in the ever-changing environment.

Q. What skills should today’s PR students be sure to master if they are interested in a career in digital?

A. Managing a brand is different than managing your own profile so if you’re looking for a career, look to see how brands are interacting with their communities. The world of digital is quite broad so there’s room for everyone from web producers, to user experience experts to interactive designers.  Understand that PR and social/digital is more than just conversing, but is also understanding how all the pieces fit together.

Q. Care to divulge one of the biggest mistakes you made earlier in your career?

A. Since the digital landscape is constantly evolving, mistakes can turn into ground-breaking ideas.  I can speak to it broadly, but I would say that underestimating how many moving parts go into an online program has caused some headache.  I would also say that everyone has underestimated the size and scope of a project and it’s part of learning.

Q. How has the prevalence of digital and social media changed the PR landscape in recent years?

A. Every brand understands that social media is a large part of how people share information.  PR has found itself squarely in the middle of helping manage and influence conversations.  As the world gets more sophisticated with technology, this will continue to evolve how brands and consumers/audiences interact.

Q. What one piece of advice do you have for those just starting their careers in PR?

A. I’m a digital guy, but I would say that people coming into PR need to understand the tools they use, such as social networks, and how that would apply to brands.  I think one of the greatest strengths the incoming workforce has is the native use of technology (meaning it’s always been a part of your life).

Categories : Career Advice, PR, Q&A
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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