Archive for job training
Today’s guest post is by Peppercomm’s Director of Audience Engagement, Sam Ford.
5 Takeaways for Your Work as a Professional Communicator
After a summer working at my local high school—doing odd jobs to get the school premises ready for another academic year–and some “spot jobs” here and there working tobacco fields for my family, my first ongoing job was as a “carryout.”
Many reading this may be from towns where this particularly nicety no longer existed when they were growing up or else of the more modern era where such service has been done away with in favor of the “self service” world of pumping your own gas and checking yourself out in the retail line. If so, the “carryout boy” (and—yes—where I’m from, it was a heavily gendered designation; women who applied were sent straight to the cash register…Maybe they didn’t trust us boys with the till?) was the person who bagged groceries and then carted them out to the car for any and every patron who came through our store.
I had shopped most of my life at Houchens and the other local grocery stores. (My parents skipped around town, so as to cherry-pick from what each grocery store in town had to offer, in a pre Super-Walmart era where small towns actually had quite a few retail stores to choose from.) I spent Friday evenings camped out on the “front bench” at Houchens. My dad sometimes let me have a chocolate milk and a doughnut, if I’d earned it. And I spent my allowance on comic books and sat at the front and read my comic books while Dad talked to the locals. Sometimes, Dad left, and I ended up talking with one or another old man who might tell me how those comic books I was reading were written by the Devil himself, trying to corrupt my young mind.
Or people stopped by to ask me to recite all of the Presidents of the United States in order. I had learned how to read in part off a paper Houchens grocery bag that we had gotten, which listed all the presidents in order, along with their head shots. And my dad, preparing me for the world that is public relations, would promote my ability to recite those presidents to passersby. I sometimes wish he’d put out a hat…or, more apropos, that he had brought that Houchens grocery sack with the presidents’ faces on it for people to throw in donations after I’d ran through all those presidents and even listed Grover Cleveland twice, as the list required me to do.
I’d long been resolved that I wanted to be one of those carryout boys who brought those groceries to the car. Aside from a few dedicated “lifers” who worked the dayshift and the managers who oversaw the shop, Houchens almost exclusively employed high schoolers at night. It was a coveted position. People vied for those Houchens cashier and carryout positions. They often had a couple of the main basketball stars amidst their ranks, as well as a real cast of characters. Almost always, though, those carryouts were memorable “characters.” They were part of the lore.
And Houchens knew how to recruit for that position. They didn’t complain much that their parking lot was the hangout for local teenagers on Friday night in a town where there was little to do than drive back and forth across town…where the socializing from the Friday night football games typically spilled over to after game socializing, and drama, in front of Houchens. The carryouts and the cashiers would run out to join the social scene once their shift ended. And Houchens was always present at all the local sporting events—sponsoring teams, providing food, and whatever else could be done to root the local team on.
For months before I applied, I went in to let my intentions be known. I worked hard on my resume. I checked in often while on those Friday afternoon shopping excursions, to make sure they knew when I’d be available. And all the work paid off: I found myself part of the “Houchens team” and had a glorious time my junior and part of my senior year being amidst those “carryout” ranks.
Eventually, as my senior year of school heated up and I was in the midst of college prep and dating a girl seriously and everything else that came along, I ended that relationship with Houchens. But Houchens had no problem ending that relationship, either. In the time between, the Super Walmart had come to town, right across the road from the high school in what used to be a cow pasture. They were open 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week. They could undercut Houchens’ prices. And, soon, Houchens had started having fewer slots, and fewer shifts, available to us carryout boys.
Several months after I left Houchens, I made plans to get married—right at the end of my senior year of high school. I wanted some extra income, but Houchens didn’t have those spots to bring me back to. Instead, I applied at Walmart. Walmart didn’t bother with carrying people’s groceries to the car—after all, they were about Lower Prices. Always. So I was a “Cart Pusher.” (I wish I’d gotten business cards made up for that.) Our job training consisted of showing us what union representatives looked like and begging us to run straight for a manager if we ever saw one. The store was massive. Managers had been brought in from other Walmarts to help our little town know how to run an operation so impressive, or at least that was the attitude that seemed to prevail among some.
There were four managers overseeing the store at one time, and the “Cart Pusher” was the day laborer who had to answer to the will of any of those managers. Sometimes, all four of them gave me instructions at once—and there was no clear designation of which I was supposed to listen to.
At Houchens, I was heavily encouraged to engage with the people whose groceries I carried out—to have fun with my coworkers and to talk with the people who shopped at our store. At Walmart, I was given a cross look if I stopped to talk to someone. I was officially “written up” because I didn’t answer a call to go outside and bring carts in. I tried—and another employee tried as well—to explain that I didn’t answer the call over the PA to go outside to gather carts because I was already outside gathering carts. But the managers didn’t care.
To be fair, Walmart did give me a $1,000 scholarship for college, which I was grateful for…But they gave me a heavy dose of what it was like to work in a toxic work culture I abhorred to go along with it.
Houchens wasn’t just a retailer in town. It was a local institution. It was part of the community. It invested in the community, and the community invested in it. Its people loved working there (for the most part; I’m sure some disgruntled “bag boy” might provide a counter-narrative). People loved shopping there. And it was part of the local social life in a way that it embraced.
All that goodwill didn’t protect it from business realities. If another store came along open all hours of the day, and which could offer a far greater product range and far lower prices—Houchens couldn’t compete. And people’s love of Houchens wouldn’t necessarily stop them from crossing the road into that old cow pasture, fill up their carts with Walmart merchandise, and then go through the indignity of pushing that cart to their cars themselves.
But it did matter. The old men sitting at the front of Walmart didn’t laugh and joke about life. They told jokes about how long their wives spent at Walmart. (“I was in here one time, and a man and his son was sitting here. The boy was really cute and looked like he was in first grade. I asked the man, ‘What’s your son’s name?’ He said, ‘Ralph.’ I said, ‘Well, how old is Ralph?’ And he said, ‘Well, he was 3 when we came in.”) They complained about how much money Walmart brings in and ships right off to Bentonville, Arkansas, without much investment in the local community. And they have spent the last almost 15 years watching as many of the local hardware stores, grocery stores, and other staples of the old main street shuttered their doors, unable to compete with “We Sell for Less.” They’ve even seen the local newspapers take a real hit for awhile, when all the local businesses that ran advertisements that supported the local journalists closed their doors and Walmart didn’t need to advertise…because, after all, they’re Walmart.
I don’t know that people line up around the block to work for Walmart, or vie for a position. They sort of resign themselves into working for Walmart, if they’re not flipping burgers for a fast food chain. And now, as most of town has died out, what largely remain is that lit up campus in that old cow pasture, standing as a headstone for the town it had played its small part in sucking dry. And, nevertheless, people in Beaver Dam, Ky., can now get papayas and almond milk and all sorts of items only a Walmart could afford to ship in on those big trucks. And, while I don’t see the same “hangout culture” in Walmart’s parking lot, people are known to do their best to “co-opt” Walmarts aisles as a reinvented town square. If you go to Beaver Dam and someone’s not home and it’s not a church night, you just as well drive over to the Walmart and look around the aisles. You might find who you’re looking for.
But there’s no love or loyalty there. If anything, there’s a slight resentment as people push their carts down the aisle and say hi to one another. Walmart’s a necessary evil in their lives, not a community member.
And don’t feel like the community turned its back on Houchens, by the way. While they couldn’t compete across the road from Walmart, they still own a “Hometown IGA” in Ohio County, and a Sav-A-Lot discount grocery store, and a few different gas stations. Houchens actually had $3 billion in sales last fiscal year and is currently #154 among Forbes list of America’s Largest Private Companies. They are an employee-owned organization whose holdings range from a wide variety of grocery store, gas station, and convenience store brands to insurance companies, restaurants, transportation, construction, recycling, health clinics, healthcare services, financial planning, indoor tanning, and website/software. But when people around Kentucky talk about Houchens, they much more often do so with some admiration in their voice and a deep feeling of community investment.
Other than this old codger reliving some nostalgia here on PRiscope, what’s the “moral” of this story for those of you working in the public relations field? There are five main takeaways from this “comparison of corporate cultures” that I hope you take with you throughout your career—the companies you work for, the clients you work with, and the communities you seek to reach:
- Your job can be more than a job. Seek out workplace cultures where you can thrive and where you enjoy working. In every industry—in our industry—there are some behemoths who may always do well because of their size and the business practices that size allows them to engage in. Some of them may treat you well; I don’t know, and I don’t know that I ever will know. But, if you have options, don’t just work somewhere to earn a paycheck. Work somewhere that causes you to enjoy going to work and where you feel that your work is respected.
- Business is about More than Business. Business is about people. The companies we work for, or consult with, aren’t just there to sell stuff to people, or to spin a message. They are part of the communities—whether physical or otherwise—they seek to engage. It’s our job as communication professionals to push those companies to be true members of that community: to listen, to empathize, etc. We are there to make sure that not only their bottom lines do well but that their reputation does well, too.
- Have Fun. When I worked at Houchens, I looked forward to clocking in. I and fun with my co-workers. To this day, I still keep up with my old managers there. I thought seriously at one point about heading home from the East Coast, while I was still living there, to go back to Kentucky for a Houchens employee reunion. I tell stories about the time I spent there. I feel emotionally invested, even now as a “Houchens alum.” Seek out jobs like that. When you find one, get the most out of it. And, if life takes you elsewhere, don’t forget about the time you spent there.
- Our Clients Are “Selling” Experiences. For me, Houchens was an experience. It was woven into the fabric of our neighborhood, and it openly embraced that role, rather than indifferently allowing it. I desires that Houchens job as a teenager because I liked being there. My managers embraced my banter with old Remus Evans or my talking about the latest school gossip with Pixie Graham. And people looked forward to coming. In Houchens’ case, the experience wasn’t quite enough to compete with Walmart’s undercutting prices and greater product variety, but it was more than enough to maintain a variety of business holdings in the county, once the flagship grocery store closed. Generating that sort of loyalty, goodwill, and passion from audiences requires doing all we can to ensure a superior customer experience.
- Goodwill Matters. When a company is beloved, its customers will often jump to its defense. Economic necessity allowed Walmart to prevail against Houchens in the direct grocery war…but almost begrudgingly so. Many people who shop at Walmart would love nothing more than to see another company who respected the community more come along and offer a similar product range at competitive prices but which actually pays its employees well and engages more deeply with the community. When people give Walmart “down the road” back home, I don’t hear people jumping up to their defense. Instead, they talk with snark about the inevitable reality that they will end up pouring their money into the Walmart Corporation. Walmart has a retail foothold. But they don’t have a loyal customers and they remain open for potential disruption.
Sam Ford is Director of Audience Engagement with Peppercomm. In addition to his experience with Houchens and Walmart, he has honed his retail chops as a seasonal worker at Target, as a pizza delivery man at “Pizza Tonight,” and as a bank teller at Bank of America…and even degrading himself to working as a telemarketer for all of two or three days.
Today’s guest post is by Peppercomm business affairs supervisor, Kelly Lorenz.
Early to rise! That phrase is never music to a teenager’s ears, especially during summer break. However, I was an anomaly. My first job when I was 14-years-old was working on a horse farm, starting in the wee hours of the morning, often before the sun even came up. Translation: I shoveled horse poop and avoided getting kicked in the face by aggressive stud horses. But that’s not all my work experience chalked up to be – it was only the beginning.
To be clear, I had my own horses growing up so I was accustomed to cleaning stalls, throwing large bales of hay and all of the dirty work that comes with these incredible animals. But that was for three horses, not 30, and I was riding solo in this job.
Even though temperatures were in the 90s by early-morning and I wore jeans and boots, I look back on this work experience for giving me the most fun and rewarding summer of my youth. In fact, I’d do this every summer if I could. In the meantime, I carry a few lessons with me to this day:
- Take pride in your work, no matter the task. Nobody wants to shovel s%#t, but somebody has to. So do it right, and do it well. I could have had a negative attitude and complained about the task, but instead I shoveled that dung like a rock star. My supervisor noticed and said the stalls had never been cleaner, done so quickly or without complaint. She hired two more people to take over most of that work so I could focus on other (less smelly) tasks.
- Seek out opportunities. Growing up I mostly rode for pleasure and recreation, and my horses were well-trained. Many of the horses at the farm were owned by renowned riders and trainers who had a lot of expertise to share. As I built a rapport with the owners that summer, they saw how I handled their animals. So, they offered me complimentary training and most allowed me to train on their horses. Additionally, many offered me side jobs to exercise their horses at an hourly rate that’s nearly triple today’s minimum wage.
- Capitalize on your strengths. There were many moving pieces and varying factors to completing this work in timely manner each day. For one, just like people, horses can be somewhat temperamental. Some horses can’t be around other horses (especially studs with mares…hello baby colts!), other horses can’t be removed from their stalls and the damn donkey that bites everyone/thing, but begs to socialize is another story. Not to mention the large ground you’re covering and the amounts of manual labor you’re required to complete in a short period of time. Here, organization and efficiency was everything. This is when I realized I had a strength for process and execution which are skills I use to this day in my professional life. I can steer a wheelbarrow while in a full sprint like a champ.
So, what was the biggest lesson learnt while shoveling dung? Turn work into play and you’ll never work a day in your life. I’d be fooling myself if I said this job wasn’t exhausting and dirty. This job was also a blast! Aside from working with horses, my one true love – horses –, I watched the sunrise over the mountains each morning, dunked friends in horse troughs of ice cold water and made human electric fence shock chains (not advised, and I was only 14). Not to mention my toned biceps, blond hair and killer farmers tan were the envy of every country girl when we returned to school in the fall.
Today’s guest post is by Peppercomm associate, Madeline Skahill.
While I have had my fair share of babysitting jobs and teaching younger kids the ropes of soccer at camp, my first “real” job all began during the warm summer months of Williamsburg. When you say “Williamsburg” to a group of New Yorkers, they automatically assume the trendy neighborhood of New York. However, when you say “Williamsburg” to anyone who has ever been on a field trip or have grandparents who live in the south, they think of Colonial Williamsburg; the mecca of bonnets, cannons, and daily reenactments of 18th century life.
The summers in Colonial Williamsburg were where the tourists went to play and the high school students sought summer jobs. As a majority of my friends obtained jobs as hostesses at neighboring restaurants, I was lucky enough to land a job as a Sales Associate at “The Williamsburg Peanut Shop.” While I can’t say I ever felt a true passion behind how peanuts were made and seasoned, I can say that my summer months spent in the small store located on the corner of a bustling street, taught me a few lessons I will always be able to apply in my career.
- Perform at your best, no matter what task you are completing: My first day on the job consisted of grabbing a fork from the back room and picking out the melted chocolate covered peanuts from the cracks of the wooden floor. While some may say this may not seem like the most ideal task, I knew if I did not get this job done right, my entire summer would be spent performing similar tasks. Dedicating myself to this task, left the floors clean and my manager happy about my positive attitude and efficient works style. This was the last time I ever scrubbed the floors.
- The customer is always right: This may not be entirely true, but for the most part dealing with an unhappy customer, or client, makes the task at hand, much more challenging. Understanding the needs of the customer, not only makes your job easier, but allows you to complete the job right and in a timely manner.
- Never under-estimate your skills: Although I worked with a fair amount of people my age, the managers of the store were much older. That being said, I quickly learned that in order to gain more responsibly in the store, I had to show the managers I could think and act on their level. By contributing to conversations about what products to buy for the store or how to handle the store operations when a summer storm knocks the power out, I was able to close the age gap between my co-workers and myself. While my ideas and thoughts may not have always been right, I did not let the age gap hinder the jobs I deserved to manage.
These are just a few tips I learned along the way, though I have many more stories to share. Unfortunately for you all, there is not enough time in the day to discuss the life lesson I learned from standing outside the store in a peanut hat for 2 hours.
In today’s post, meet current Peppercomm NYC intern and future communications star, Meredith Briggs.
1.)Tell us about yourself—where did you/do you go to school, where are you from and what brought you to Peppercomm?
My name is Meredith Briggs and I’m an incoming senior at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. I am double majoring in French and American Studies (see my blog post for more info). I went to an immersion school so I’ve been speaking French since the 1st grade! I’m originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, although neither of my parents are from Minnesota (mom is from Ohio and dad is from New York).
I worked at a PR firm last summer in NYC and was really excited about the opportunity to pursue another internship in New York. After doing some research on the top PR firms in New York I was immediately drawn to Peppercomm. Not only did they have an impressive list of clients, but they also continuously reiterated the fun aspect of their culture (how many companies do you know that actually have a Culture Committee?) Thankfully I was fortunate enough to get an internship here and the rest is history!
2) What area of the industry do you find the most appealing and why?
This is a tough question for me. If you had asked me at the beginning of the summer I would have easily said that I was most interested in consumer clients. Between my internship last summer and my internship at Peppercomm I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some really cool consumer accounts. This is definitely still a passion of mine, however, after attending the Council of PR Firms’ annual InternFest I have no idea what exactly I want to do. Listening to Gail Moaney, a specialist in travel service relations, made me realize how insanely large the PR industry is. You can specialize in anything and everything and this is something that really appeals to me. I guess this is a roundabout way of saying that the industry itself is most appealing to me. I could potentially do the PR for my favorite sports teams, or my favorite candy bar. There are endless possibilities in this industry and that never ceases to amaze me.
3) Any surprises or revelations about your role, the industry or Peppercomm?
I sort of answered this question in the last answer, but again, I think what really surprised me is how enormous the PR world is. I think this is exemplified through Peppercomm’s own clientele. For me, I’ll be working on a consumer account, and then 20 minutes later I’ll be doing work for a financial account.
Something specific about Peppercomm itself that surprised me was how true they are to the “fun” aspect of work. I definitely thought Peppercomm was a fun company but was shocked by how they are constantly bringing fun into the office. To name a few of the fun things I’ve experienced in my short time here at Peppercomm, they brought in food and drinks for the World Cup they brought in food and drinks, they hosted a comedy show and a happy hour. They try to help you balance work and play, and I definitely think they are successful.
4) Where do you see yourself going in the industry?
Up! Just kidding – kind of. I hope that after I graduate (scary thought) I end up at a company like Peppercomm. Before I decide what I really want to do I’d like to keep expanding my horizons, and this is something that Peppercomm allows me to do. While I’ve definitely realized what I do and don’t like, I want to dive more into the type of work that I am interested in. What kind of consumer PR, should I specialize, etc. Basically all I really want is to work for a company that I love. I want to be excited about the work I do, even if it’s something as simple as putting together a media list. I think it would be really cool to do sports PR, but I don’t want to limit myself just yet!
Today’s guest post was written by Peppercomm’s Jade Moore, manager, client relationships.
My very first job didn’t feel much like one. My aunt had a friend who ran an upscale (read: overpriced) boutique in my neighborhood in Staten Island, and asked if I’d be interested in working one or two days a week after school. This place had all of the trappings you might expect from a Staten Island outfitter. Sequins galore. I said sure, why not?! I was a junior in high school and could use some extra cash for buying acrylic nails or whatever horrible thing I was into back then. Plus, she was a friend of my dear aunt, so she had to be nice to me.
If you’ve ever seen “Happy Endings,” this shop was precisely like the boutique owned by ditzy Alex (played by Elisha Cuthbert) – that is, there were no customers. Perhaps this place was bustling during prom and wedding season but when I started in the fall – crickets. I quickly learned that I would be responsible for a few things: vacuuming, steaming clothes – which, admittedly, I love to do (ironing, not so much) – and affixing price tags onto said clothing items. The little price-tag gun was fun to use. Maybe the highlight of my time there.
To be quite honest, given the fact that there was not much to do beyond the tasks outlined above – and the fact that there were, again, no customers – I don’t think I took the job too seriously, in hindsight. I played with the owners dog. I challenged myself to find normal-ish clothes for myself among the bedazzled frocks. I may have napped once. Yes, you heard correctly. As a conscientious and responsible adult, I would never pull a George Costanza today. I’m ashamed to say I did then, but I had a good reason! See, the night before, I was at Yankee Stadium, watching the Yankees play the Diamondbacks in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series. An epic, 12-inning win for the Yanks. I was tired. I don’t think anyone noticed, but I still feel bad about that.
After a few months, the owner decided she didn’t really need me anymore and stopped calling me in for work. Probably for the best that we parted ways. In the end, I definitely hadn’t learned how to be a master salesperson. Or even how to use a cash register. The “no customers” part kind of made these things challenging. I didn’t really look up to the Boss either. Let’s just say, she was a little gossipy. But I took a couple of key lessons away from my brief foray in retail:
- Put your best foot forward. Even if you don’t feel like you can contribute much, there’s always something you can do to go above and beyond and add value. I could’ve used the opportunity to think of and share ways to bring in new customers. Or ask my boss to give me a lesson in making a sale.
- Don’t sleep on the job.
There’s something to be learned from every job. What may not seem like a worthwhile experience can be full of surprises if you keep your eyes and ears open and make the most of it.