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My first year as a Big Apple resident was a goldmine when it came to first-time experiences. From landing my first full-time job and devouring my first Cronut to encountering my first (and unfortunately not last) subway rats*, the NYC lifestyle has always kept me on my toes. After all I’ve been through in the last twelve-ish months, my favorite “first” came in mid-July when I had the opportunity to make my stand-up comedy debut at the Greenwich Village Comedy Club.

While I’ve toyed with the idea of taking on a stand-up gig for quite a while, I never thought a six-minute performance could have such an obvious impact on my outlook as it did. Here are a few key lessons I learned from my recent experience:

1. The fun of just going for it. 

Having idolized Brian Regan** for years and dreamed of eventually becoming his female counterpart, I was excited to have the opportunity to officially get the ball rolling on the whole comedy thing. There was just one problem…I had no idea what I was doing. I’d taken stand-up and improv workshops through Peppercomm in the past, but had never actually performed in front of anyone before. It would have been really easy to simply decline participation, but where’s the fun in that? Either way, I figured, my debut would end with a great story to tell: whether “that time I tried stand-up and completely bombed…classic,” or, “that time I made my comedy debut back in 2014 and am now scheduled to audition for SNL!”

Overall, I was pretty happy with how my first routine went. While there were definitely some bits I could have done better, it turns out that a comedy club is a great place to laugh the little things off. Besides, next time I perform, I’ll be coming at it with a little experience under my belt. Sometimes, you just have to go for it.

2. The importance of knowing your audience.

Prior to my stand-up debut, I knew that the audience would consist mainly of my colleagues, along with their friends and families. As such, I was challenged to craft a performance that was:

    • Relevant to both PR and non-PR folks.
    • Applicable to multiple generations.
    • Appropriate enough to perform in front of my co-workers.
    • Hilarious enough to get me promoted. (I’m joking.)

You wouldn’t bring a celebrity gossip story to Sarah Needleman, just as you wouldn’t tell a dirty joke to your grandmother. Whether you’re pitching a Wall Street Journal reporter or fishing for laughs, determining your audience’s needs ought to be step one in the communication process.

3. The perks of rolling with the punches.

While my routine was rooted in storytelling rather than banter or scripted dialogue, there was still plenty of room for hiccups. Case in point: the moment I walked on stage and immediately knocked over the mic stand. I could’ve let that moment affect the rest of my performance, or I could roll with the punches and carry on. Spoiler alert: I chose the latter.

Not only is improvisation a key to comedy, but it’s also a key to business. When the scheduled speaker doesn’t show up to a client event or a producer challenges your story angle, you can’t crawl under your desk and fold under pressure. You have to pick up the pieces and improvise as you go.

So now, any time I’m on the phone with a tough reporter or a difficult client, I don’t sweat it. If I can address a 60-person audience in a comedy club, I can certainly deal with a one-person audience on the other end of a phone line.

If there’s even a small part of you that wants to give stand-up a whirl, then what are you waiting for? Remember, worst case scenario, you’ll come out of it with a great story to tell.

* And realizing they aren’t nearly as cute or hilarious as Disney makes them out to be in Ratatouille…this is not the same as this.

** Treat  yo-self: Lousy in Little League

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Aug
15

My First Job: The Night Shift

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Today’s guest post is by Peppercomm media and content specialist, Chris Gillick.  

It was April 2003, college graduation was a month away, and I was soon to be spit out into the big bad world (i.e. mom’s basement) with no job lined up. While I was certainly not alone, the competitor in me wanted to be able to tell my classmates during Senior Week that I had my act together.

I then got a voicemail on my house phone. (Remember those? To think that as recently as 2003 there were no such things as smartphones or Facebook.)

The call was about a currency trader job on Wall Street. This was not out of the blue, as I had positioned myself with relevant coursework and internships for a career in finance. But the job market in financial services at the time for recent graduates was the weakest it had been in decades.

This was a stark contrast to when I had entered college at the tail end of the go-go 90s. Professors were regaling stories of seniors getting multiple Wall Street job offers just for showing up to interviews. But the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the 9/11 tragedies that followed quickly ended the hire-if-they-have-a-pulse practices.

I rushed down to New York City later that week for the interview. The office was in a dingy old building just south of the real Wall Street, next to the famed bull statue. I was wearing my best (and only) suit and a red power tie. Despite portraying great confidence with my outfit, I was more nervous than I had ever been. My palms actually sweated as I filled out an application in the reception area.

After completing the paperwork and wiping said hand sweat onto my suit pants, I was ushered into “The Cage,” a 7’x7’ closet filled with a dozen computer screens flashing real-time currency prices. There I met with a manager not too much older than I was, along with a classic old-timer who had been in the business for 40 years and could have easily been confused for Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. During our meeting, they bombarded me with math problems and market-related questions, which I seemingly answered with ease, and told me that the job required work at all hours, including the overnight shift. I said I was fine with that. I just wanted a job. The actual hours themselves were irrelevant.

After seemingly passing muster with these two gentlemen, they told me to come back in 30 minutes to meet the partner in charge of the group. I walked outside of the building and sat in Bowling Green Park across the street, pondering the gravity of the situation. What kind of test is this? Who are these guys? What do they do? Am I going to get the job? It was a painfully long 30 minutes.

When I returned to The Cage, a bearded man with sunglasses walked in wearing sweatpants, smoking a Marlboro Red, and sporting a baseball cap that read “F#@% OFF”. I couldn’t have made up this story if I tried.

This was NOTHING like the investment banks in midtown I had interviewed with months earlier. Who is this character? What kind of place is this? This is Wall Street? Isn’t everyone supposed to be dressed up, pedigreed and well-spoken? However, this could be more fun and interesting than working at a stuffy big bank, I thought. My conversation with the boss went something like this:

BOSS: “Are you Arab?”

(For the record, I have dark olive skin, and he was a Russian immigrant with strong ties in the Jewish community.)

ME: “No, I’m Irish and Italian.”

(Needless to say, I wanted the job and was hardly concerned about the blatant HR violation that he had just committed.)

BOSS: “Well, you look Arab. Are you willing to work nights?”

ME: “Yes, that’s fine.”

BOSS: “Good, we’re gonna offer you the job.”

No waiting for callbacks. No second or third rounds. No Super Saturdays. No BS. Two weeks after graduation, I was a currency trader on Wall Street.

My third day on the job, around 8 AM in the morning, I walked onto the trading desk during a very volatile moment in the market. I had no idea what was going on. One soon-to-be relieved night shift trader asked me, “Hey, did they teach you how to make prices yet?”

“Yes!”

“Good. You’re on Dollar-Canada!”

Before I could even blink, I sat down at a computer terminal and made a price in the Canadian dollar that was a full cent away what it should have been –  a massive discrepancy. Not even three days into my tenure on Wall Street, I had just caused major problems to my firm’s trading system, blowing through every safeguard meant to prevent such an error. I’m lucky I wasn’t fired right then and there. Given that my fingerprints were all over an unnecessary spike in our price chart of the Canadian dollar, from that day on I was known as “Spike” to the rest of the team. At first I objected to the name, but there was no way I was ever living this down. The name Spike stuck.

Eventually I got the hang of what I was doing, and after about a year working conventional hours, I was assigned to “the night shift.” My hours were now from midnight to 8AM. At first it wasn’t so bad. I had the freedom to do what I wanted during the day, and could choose whatever hours I wanted to sleep. It only took me a week or two to get used to it.

There were other benefits as well. For one, my drycleaning bill plummeted because I didn’t have to get dressed up for work. When I walked to the subway just after 8 AM, fighting the crowds in suits going the other way, I felt like I had a leg up on the rest of the population having already done my time at work. I really got to know my colleagues better personally, as there were no external distractions overnight and we were free to talk more openly with each other. Plus, have you ever been to happy hour at 8:30 in the morning? I spent several Thursday and Friday mornings at the South Street Seaport with my colleagues downing 32 oz Styrofoam buckets of beer for $1.75 each. The only other fellow degenerates at Jeremy’s Ale House at that hour were the Fulton Fish Market workers, a fun bunch indeed.

I stayed at that job for a few years before moving onto a smaller startup competitor. But after 4 years of a round the clock lifestyle, coupled with the concurrent demise of that startup, I realized that I was better at talking and writing about finance than doing it. That epiphany led to stints as a financial journalist and eventually my current career in public relations working with financial services clients.

The night shift taught me this important reality: work can be done at any hour anywhere around the globe. Lots of people make their living working overnight, whether it be a doorman for an apartment building, a construction worker, or a police officer. For creative types, sometimes their best work is done at night, free from the distractions of emails, phone calls and texts we receive during the day.

In short, unconventional hours can yield unconventional experiences, which yield unconventional results.  In the end, it’s always a more fun story to tell.

 

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In today’s post, meet one Peppercomm’s amazing Summer interns, Jess Schram

1) Tell us about yourself—where did you/do you go to school, where are you from and what brought you to Peppercomm?

Hi there! I’m Jess—a rising senior at the University of Maryland, College Park. I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey in a town called Freehold, which is about 15 minutes from Six Flags and only a short car ride from the beach. If you really knew me, you would know a few things:

  1. I’m a pescatarian (because I couldn’t give up sushi).
  2. I’m a hula hooper (because I couldn’t give up childhood).
  3. I’m a Kiwi (because I couldn’t give up New Zealand after studying abroad).

jess

 

My interest in Peppercomm stems from a class project I had two years ago, which challenged me to interview a communications professional for writing tips in the PR industry. At the time, my uncle was a communications executive for one of Peppercomm’s clients, and put me in touch with Partner and President of Peppercomm, Ted Birkhahn, for an interview.

Like any good student, I did some research before making the call, and was very impressed with what I found. After browsing Peppercomm’s website(s), I realized my uncle set me up for something greater than I expected. And by greater, I mean more intimidating. And by more intimidating I mean, “Holy smokes! This place is the real deal.”

On first blush I learned that Peppercomm had recently been dubbed one of the best places to work in NYC by Crain’s New York Business and also boasted some of the best campaigns I’d ever seen. It was at that moment I knew my informational interview wasn’t going to be just “for class.” This interview was a stepping stone toward something bigger—a future internship at Peppercomm—and I was determined to make it count . . .

. . . I guess it worked. 

2) What area of the industry do you find the most appealing and why?

I like PR because I think it’s the perfect combination of business and journalism. Think about it—business professionals are the brains of a company, and reporters are the voices of the people, but PR practitioners are a perfect combination of the two. The public relations industry appeals to me because it is one of the only fields to specialize in connecting businesses with people, and I am drawn to creating these symbiotic relationships.

3) Any surprises or revelations about your role, the industry or Peppercomm?

If working here has taught me anything, it’s that Peppercomm certainly strays from the norm… in a good way. Last week I had coffee with a University of Maryland alumna in the PR industry at a different agency and asked her questions about entry level public relations in the city. The former Terp was very honest, which I appreciate, but told me things I was not expecting.

For starters, the alumna explained that some agencies do not allow entry-level associates to participate in client calls or pitch reporters. I was shocked!  How could I go from being treated like an account executive to being completely out of the loop from client initiatives? Not for me.

After speaking with the former Terp, I feel fortunate that Peppercomm allowed me to dabble in what appears to be “unchartered waters” for entry levels, and will certainly do my homework when shopping for the best experience after graduation.

4) Where do you see yourself going in the industry?

Although I’ve learned a lot this summer, Peppercomm has me hungry for more. I loved being exposed to the strategic/creative realm of communications and enjoyed participating in campaign brainstorms and co-owning the social media ideas for our intern program, the PeppSquad.

In the future, I hope to be in a role that encompasses strategy and planning and has less to do with day to day media relations and pitching. My true passion lies in storytelling through digital media, and I hope to one day have a career that allows me to do just that.

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In today’s post, meet current Peppercomm NYC intern and future communications star (or Creative Director)Mary Insinga.

1) Tell us about yourself—where did you/do you go to school, where are you from and what brought you to Peppercomm?

I am a recent graduate from the State University of New York at Oneonta. I received a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies with a minor in Advertising.

I am from Bellmore, Long Island – right by Jones Beach! I recently moved there with my family but I am originally from New Hyde Park, Long Island.  I grew up in an extremely diverse neighborhood and attended one of the highest ranked High Schools in New York State, Herricks High School (96th in the country!) I could honestly say that my educational foundation was a challenging experience but I received a degree that I am truly proud of.

My educational experience at Oneonta was very much a creative one and my major was filled with brilliant professors who have truly changed my life. In hindsight, I was somewhat frustrated that the classes I needed to fulfill my minor in Advertising were only available to me during my Senior Year.

Fortunately, this hiccup in my initial plan was exactly what led me in to the Public Relations industry. I’m not going to lie, when someone talks to me about the struggle of finding a job, I am the first to say – “it’s all about who you know, you should look to your social networks.” It has unfolded for me that almost all of my professional experience thus far has begun from a networking connection.

My aunt works for a financial advisement firm that had briefly enlisted the services of Janine Gordon Associates, a boutique PR Firm in New York City. Thankfully, my aunt and Janine got along splendidly and maintained a friendship well beyond their client relationship. Seeing as I had little to no hard skills at the time that I felt could be applied to an Advertising internship, I turned to Public Relations as my first attempt at an internship experience. I was fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to interview for a summer internship at JGA.

Once I landed the job, the doors felt like they had flung open and the possibilities were endless. Through that internship, I not only discovered my passion for public relations but found coworkers and a management team that I connected so well with on both a professional and personal level. The entire JGA team had truly cultivated my understanding of the industry by allowing me to explore the world of public relations, and encouraging every one of my ideas and explorations.

It was actually on my last day at JGA at the end of the summer that Janine announced Peppercomm’s acquisition of JGA. I sat there bubbling over with excitement as she described Peppercomm’s culture, clients and endless opportunities for both their employees and clients.  Staying true to my belief that, “it’s all about connections,” I kept in touch with Sam Bruno, who was my intern supervisor at JGA. I continued to extend my interest in pursuing an internship at Peppercomm and now here I am!

2) What area of the industry do you find the most appealing and why?

 JGA was acquired by Peppercomm with the intent to be able to provide clients with broad-based consumer lifestyle expertise, and further enhance Peppercomm’s existing abilities. My experience on consumer accounts at both JGA and Peppercomm has emerged as my favorite area of the industry to work on.

Fortunately, at Peppercomm I am working on a few of the same accounts I worked on a JGA. Through this extended experience with these consumer brands, I feel that I have been able to hone my interest on the consumer and lifestyle sector of the industry.

3) Any surprises or revelations about your role, the industry or Peppercomm?

I think the biggest revelation I have had during my internship experience at Peppercomm, is how important an office culture is to the wellbeing of its employees. I have had my fair share of office jobs in the past and I can honestly say that the sense of community and fun that is felt here at Peppercomm is so refreshing. It has been especially funny for me to have all of my expectations confirmed.

I had the unique opportunity to have sat in on the meeting when Janine announced to the JGA girls about the acquisition. Janine, being the wonderful PR professional that she is, pitched Peppercomm and the idea of moving to their offices so eloquently. She spoke of the comedy experience, and the Peppercomm State University, the CEO’s and the upward mobility. Everything that she had promised to her employees had rung true for them and for me once I began my internship at Peppercomm.

4) Where do you see yourself going in the industry?

Well for now, I am sticking around at Peppercomm and extending my internship in to the fall semester. As a recent graduate, I am definitely looking to find a full time position working in the PR and Marketing industry at a mid-size, full service firm like Peppercomm.

I also have been given the unique opportunity to explore the Creative digital department here, which is a sector of the industry that has especially piqued my interest. I hope to excel at project management in the short term, hopefully moving my way up one day to a Creative Director position in an advertising or marketing firm.

 

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If you’ve read this blog for a while, you would know that when making entry-level hires, Peppercomm looks to it’s current and former pool of interns first. In fact, we’d say about 1 out of 4 of our employees is a former intern. Here’s a few examples of our former interns who now work full-time here (I’m a former Pepperomm intern, too): Maddie Skahill, Chris Piedmont, Mandy Roth, Colin Reynolds and Nicole Hall. Seriously, those are just to name a few, I can certainly go on. A good testament to our retention is probably current senior director and former Peppercomm intern, Sara Whitman.

So you can always go to any of these amazing communications stars for tips and tricks of how to turn that internship into a full-time job, but we also loved the stories in this Forbes article: How To Turn Your Internship Into A Job: Three Real-Life Stories.

After you’ve read that article, let us know if you have any tips of your own or any questions on how to land that dream job.

 

 

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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