Archive for entry level PR

Oct
17

My First Job: Cashier

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Today’s guest post is by JGAPeppercomm account executive, Caitlin Brown.

I simultaneously loved – and despised – my first job (technically I was a babysitter first, but let’s not split hairs). I was 16, and having grown up without ever having household chores, starting a part-time job was painful – I obviously just wanted to hang out with my friends and watch TV.

In order to learn some responsibility, my parents decided I was not allowed to have a cell phone until I could pay for it on my own. Hence, I needed a job, and fast; it was 2006, and I needed that flip phone!

So what did I do? I applied to be a cashier at Wegmans, the best grocery store ever1. You may not think that your first job would have many similarities to your career, but you’d be surprised just what you learn:

Money Management Matters: As I mentioned, I needed a job in order to finally have a cell phone. As a part-time, underage worker, I could legally only work a certain number of hours, and I received minimum wage. Granted, my expenses weren’t out of control, but once I was able to purchase a phone and a cellular plan, I realized I had to keep paying for it – month after month. I quickly learned not to blow my entire paycheck on one trip to the mall, and I began to volunteer for extra shifts when possible.

It’s OK to Ask for Help: Even as a cashier, mistakes happen. Maybe you dropped someone’s fresh-from-the-oven pizza (yep, I did that), are having issues with the scanner/coupons, or someone refuses to give you their ID when they try to purchase beer. Never be afraid to call for a manager, or ask another coworker for help. You are constantly learning on the job and are interacting with others, and another set of eyes and ears can help turn around any sticky situation.

No Matter What, Always Smile: When a grocery store is full, you’d be shocked at the fast-paced environment for its employees. As a cashier, you are essentially the face of the store – so turn that frown upside down! This applies for anyone in a client-facing position; even if the customer isn’t always right, being pleasant goes a long way to making yourself and the company look good, and provides the customer with an overall pleasant experience.

 

1. Do not test Upstate New Yorkers on this; Wegmans is the best, and I stand by it. 

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Oct
13

Did I Do That?

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

As you’re starting off your career and all throughout it mistakes are bound to happen. No matter how hard we try to be perfect, that’s not always going to be the reality. Instead of beating yourself up over a mistake, here’s what I say do instead:

  • Treat it as a crisis
    • Figure out the quickest way to fix it and do it.
    • You want to be able to say, “It’s handled,” as quickly as possible.
  • Don’t deny or make excuses
    • Refrain from making excuses as to why it happened because that only waste time.
    • Instead, state the facts if someone ask and be a part of the solution.
  • You’re in the midst of the storm, don’t give up
    • You have to make up for the mistake, so fatigue is not an option.
    • Get the job done to reverse any of the consequences from the mistake.
  • The mistake is fixed, but you’re not done
    • Be apologetic, especially when it effects others.
      • This may mean an in-person apology or email blast to those team members involved.
      • Take ownership for the mistake, reassure the team you’ve learned from it and apologize again.
  • Dust it off and move on
    • You’ve survived the “crisis” and now it’s time to move on.
    • Just take note of what you did, learn so the next time you can do better.

Your career is all about learning and evolving and with that comes mistakes. Remember that they’re not the end of the world and remain optimistic that it will be alright.

How have you handled mistakes you have made on the job in the past?

 

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Today’s guest post is by JGAPeppercomm director, Lauren Banyar Reich

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

I’ve never been a fan of small children (and yes, I am now a mother of two… go figure).  So it came as no surprise that at the ripe old age of 14, I ran to my high school guidance counselor’s office, eager to obtain a working permit that would allow me to leave behind my days as a disgruntled babysitter.

After a holiday season spent working at the local nursery/Christmas “depot” I finally settled into what I would consider my first, official, real job – working as a sales person in a high-end ladies clothing boutique. For over seven years, all through high school and college, I worked at Annie-Prue Limited under the tutelage of Annie and her daughter Stephanie, who co-managed the store at the time.

Know that this was no typical retail job.  Annie didn’t suffer fools (even foolish customers) gladly, and was known to write off people based solely on a limp handshake.  She and Stephanie ran a tight ship, and did a brisk business selling labels like Longchamp, Donald Pliner, Eileen Fisher, Nicole Miller and others that you couldn’t buy anywhere but in their namesake boutiques in Philadelphia at the time.  Their clients were Wilmington Society ladies, wives of Philadelphia Phillies baseball players and relatives of the Wyeth family.

In other words, I’m not really sure why they hired me – a lanky, 15-year-old with no fashion knowledge – other than the fact that I was cheap and my parents promised to drop me off and pick me up on time.  But I’m certainly glad they did.  The lessons I learned during my tenure working for two dynamic and successful female entrepreneurs proved to be invaluable as I began to navigate the business world.  So what did I learn?

Be enthusiastic.  After my initial interview with Annie, I knew we had hit it off.  In fact, she all but offered me the job.  As we were wrapping up, she asked, offhand, how old I was.  When I answered, “Fifteen, last week,” I saw her face drop.  I reacted immediately by assuring her that I would be on time, even early, for every shift.  I promised to work hard and be dependable. I didn’t beg, but I showed her my enthusiasm for the job.  I wanted to work for her and I let her know it.  Within two weeks I was opening and closing the store on my own.

You can’t teach someone to have an enthusiastic, positive attitude – or to work hard.  People have to want that for themselves.  But you can show your boss, your co-workers, a prospective client, that you are someone they want on their team because of your passion and work ethic.  When it comes to breaking into PR – or any business – there’s always someone with more experience than you, so be the one with the best attitude and most enthusiasm for the job at hand.

Build relationships.  After just a few months of working at Annie-Prue, I knew the “regulars.”  After a few seasons, I knew the whole crew:  the men who visited for holidays and birthdays who expected us to pick out a selection of clothes and accessories their wives would love; the horse-lovers looking for the latest fashion-forward riding boots or preppy outerwear; the mom/daughter pairs who came in for every special occasion dress.  Hearing, “Oh you know what I like,” was always music to my ears.  It meant that I could pull the right items, with the right fit, for the right occasion, pretty quickly – and make a good sale without spending hours tearing up the store looking for a needle in a haystack.

Because I had strong relationships with my clients, I was able to work smarter, close more business and deliver on their expectations.  By listening, learning how to read people and building trust with our customers, my job became a whole lot easier – and I became better at it, faster.  In business, everyone says “it’s all about relationships,” because it is TRUE.  But if you want to boil it down to the basics, it’s also about getting ahead.  If you have strong, authentic, relationships with people inside and outside of your organization, you will produce better work without spinning your wheels.  And you’re likely to move up the corporate ladder much faster.

Treat your boss like your number one client.  In any retail situation, there can be a lot of downtime.  Maybe it was how my parents raised me, or maybe it’s just that I’m not very good at sitting still, but I was always asking Annie and Stephanie for jobs to do.  We would put together look books, create trend collages to put up in the dressing rooms, or I would help file invoices or manage markdowns on the sale rack.  Whenever possible I would ask how I could help, or take it upon myself to straighten the store, wipe the shelves or clean the front window.  I knew that if they found me to be useful, I would always have a job there… and it worked.

No one is irreplaceable (sorry, it’s true), but if you can create a situation where your boss depends on you for things that make their life easier, you start to become indispensable.  Thinking about him or her as your number one client is a good way to start.  How can you support them with research before a big pitch meeting?  What can you do to make them look smart in front of higher-ups at the company?  On the flipside, just as you wouldn’t gossip about someone in front of a client, maintain that same decorum in front of your superiors.  If you wouldn’t be caught dead in an outfit at a client meeting, don’t wear it to work.

Also, I’m with Annie on the handshake test… but that’s a whole other column.

 

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In today’s post, meet current Peppercomm NYC intern and future industry star, Nicole Inserra

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

I’m a New Yorker, born in Westchester and currently living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. So, I guess you could say I’m a New Yorker to my core. I recently graduated from Fordham University in the Bronx with a degree in Communications and Media Studies and with a minor in Environmental Policy. There was a time when I thought my future was going to take a more science based path, but then I had to enroll in multi-variable calculus and physics, and that was the end of that. I’ve completed a variety of communication type internships throughout college, ranging from public relations specific to special event coordinating and luxury wedding planning. Each has been a rewarding internship in its own right, and I’ve immensely enjoyed the experiences. I decided after college I wanted to try public relations again, and stumbled across Peppercomm through word of mouth.  After reading about its comedy training and dog lover theme, I knew it would be the perfect home for me. Alas, here I am!

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

I love the media relations aspect of this industry. I’m quite a talker, which anyone at this company would attest to, so I really enjoy getting to interact with the reporters and journalists. When a reporter writes back and agrees to cover a story you pitched, it’s the best feeling. You can’t help but do a little happy dance when that happens. It’s also an industry that is continually evolving, which makes it super exciting to be involved. Nothing is ever stagnant or dull in this industry. If I could focus all of my energies on the luxury accounts, I’d definitely be right in my element, but I know how beneficial it is to experience the many different types. You can’t know what you like until you try it all.

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

Honestly, I was surprised by the environment here at Peppercomm. In the past, I’ve only worked for very small firms, so the number of co-workers was easily below ten. The atmosphere was always very relaxed and comfortable. I wondered if working at a big time strategic marketing firm would be the complete opposite. I was a little worried, but couldn’t believe how wrong I was since day one. Peppercomm is the most creative, fun-loving, interactive and energetic company I’ve ever worked for. The ideas are constantly flowing, and it is so obvious how much everyone here really enjoys and is passionate about what they do. I’ve experienced a variety of different companies, and this one by far produces the most well rounded, and happiest employees yet. Most importantly, I’ve found that my co-workers serve as each other’s biggest fans. The encouragement is never ending.

Where do you see yourself going in the industry?

My future is as much a mystery to you as it is to me. I could definitely see myself staying within the public relations realm, but I like to keep my options open. Event planning is my passion deep down, specifically luxury wedding planning, and I do hope to one day find a place in that industry again. I guess only time will tell… Stay tuned!

 

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Today’s guest post is by Peppercomm director, Lia LoBello

Or: How to Deal with Crazy Teenage Boys Yelling at You

Soccer Referee Handing Out a Red Card

This is NOT Lia LoBello, but this is what we imagine her experience to look like.

In high school, the goal for many – not all, but many – 16-year-old girls to attract the attention of boys in a positive way. At my first job, I spent my Saturday and Sunday mornings getting screamed at by not just teenage boys, but their parents as well. I was a soccer referee.

It didn’t dawn on me until many years later the lunacy of refereeing boys my own age. As a soccer player, refereeing soccer games was an easy job – I knew the rules, I got paid in cash, and the field was around the corner from my house. The pay structure was simple – the center ref made double the amount of the age group playing in the game, and the line ref made the age exactly. That meant, if I refereed a minimum of four games – and in the South Florida sun, that was a simple 8 a.m. – 2pm work day – I could earn anywhere from $64-$128 in cold, hard, cash.  For a high school student, that was an incredible amount of money to have in hand every week!

The flipside was obvious – 16 year-old-boys are not known for tact, nor are they known for taking sports, shall we say, lightly. Put it together, and every perceived missed call, every questioned line judgment, and God forbid, any yellow or red cards was met by yelling, eye-rolling, and hands thrown in the air accompanied by a John McEnroe-like “ARE YOU SERIOUS?”

Looking back, however, I learned a lot from the job. I mean – how could I not have learned?! I learned how to stand my ground, to trust my judgment and to diffuse difficult situations. I learned how to walk by crazy parents while keeping my head high and I learned what was worth my time and attention to care about, as well as what was not. In the job I do today, which involves negotiating diverse personalities, keeping many balls in the air, and keeping teams motivated – I can make a direct correlation to my success in these departments to my time as a referee.

It’s also worth mentioning I had a killer tan.

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In today’s post, meet current Peppercomm SF intern and future industry star, Jenna Bigham. 

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

Hey there! My name is Jenna and I am recent graduate of the University of Arizona with a degree in Communication and a minor in Business Administration. During my college years, I was very involved in my university’s student government, ASUA, and was involved in countless organizations and positions over the course of four years. I was also heavily involved in our student section for athletic events’ committee, ZonaZoo Crew and you could pretty much find me at every Wildcat sporting event that took place (Beardown!). I also was the TOMS Campus Club President for all four years of school, worked the front reception desk for the Pharmacology and Toxicology department of the university, and also worked (well, still work on the weekends) at the clothing store Anthropologie. Over-involved seemed to be the common theme throughout my college years and I could not be more proud to say I am a Wildcat alum now.

I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, but after 22 years of the desert and the longest, scorching summers, I decided to take a chance and move to the Bay Area! I could not be happier here and am constantly finding new and exciting things to do. Moving up here is actually how I discovered Peppercomm – I told one of my Aunt’s friends that I had just graduated with a degree in Communication and was looking to break into the wild world of public relations. Turns out, her next door neighbor is Partner and President of the West Coast Peppercomm office, Ann Barlow, and she put me in contact with her to get some tips on breaking into the industry. After learning more and more about the incredible things Peppercomm has accomplished and works on every day, and how awesome their internship program is, I had to get involved. Next thing you know, I was applying for the internship program and the rest is history!

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

I am so thankful to be working on a myriad of accounts that allows me to learn how each area of PR functions. The area that I definitely enjoy the most is the media relations side. I feel like I have really been able to experience how important it is for PR professionals and journalists to work hand in hand and combine forces to get both of their different (but somewhat similar) jobs done. Public relations, in general, has always appealed to me because I love bridging the gap between business and the media and ultimately working with a client to connect with the public.

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

I was totally surprised (and pleased) to find that I was immediately given so much responsibility as an intern. The second I walked in the door on my first day, a media list project was waiting for me and I dove on in. I have heard so many experiences through friends that they feel like they did not learn anything about PR and were treated as more of an office assistant in their previous internships. That has never been the case here at Peppercomm and it’s refreshing to be treated like a real team member and be expected handle the responsibility of an entry-level associate. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous my first week to be working with such a wide range of clients from financial to legal to non-profit areas of business but it has helped me to become so well-versed in the industry already.

Where do you see yourself going in the industry?

I can definitely see myself working more in the consumer/lifestyle or tech side, just because I feel like that has always been the area of business I have always been passionate about. Down the road, I would love to either work in-house at company or with an agency that specializes in these things. For now, I feel so grateful to have been given the opportunity to constantly explore so many parts of the industry and learn each and every day from the amazing team at Peppercomm.

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Sep
29

Surviving Office Politics

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office-politic-1Like it or not, there are personalities you’ll get along with very well and then those you may feel some friction with. It’s been the case since your school days and doesn’t end in the office.

Office politics is a game we all know and love to hate (or at least some of us do), but we have to acknowledge its existence. And, surprisingly, office politics isn’t all bad.

When starting your new job or internship, be yourself, but also do your best to assess the situation and the culture. See how your team interacts with each other and with other teams.

Next, think about how best to play “the game.”

The Good:

Some offices have supervisors, some have mentors, and some have both. But, you will always have yourself. You should always be your own advocate. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn when you’ve done something well. If there is a really unique idea that you have, you should share it with your superiors. Just be careful not to have it come off as bragging or to seemingly step on someone’s toes. You can strike a good balance. But selling yourself and what you bring to the table is the key to getting raises, promotions, etc. And while some may advocate for you, oftentimes you also need to do so for yourself.

The Bad:

You’ve started a new job and really don’t know anyone in the office and haven’t figured out if there are any bad apples in the bunch (and there might not be). Be wary of the office bully or any gossips. Like in school, you don’t want to end up in “the wrong crowd” and it actually can happen in a professional setting.

If these people do exist in your new environment, sometimes you can’t avoid interaction because you’re on the same team. Keep doing what you do best and follow the plan of “the good.” It’s also best not to associate with them unless absolutely necessary.

The Ugly:

Unfortunately, not all offices are the same. There are some incredibly volatile ones. Competition can sometimes be healthy, but when colleagues and even bosses are conniving, it’s not a good situation for you. The key here is to weigh the pros and cons and decide whether or not this type of environment is one you can handle. If it’s not, then it might be time for you to move on.

With any new experience, always try to feel things out, do your best work and be yourself. Just remember that office politics exists and it’s best to know how to play rather than ignore it.

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Sep
22

Got skills?

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Today’s post is by former Peppercomm intern and future industry star, Jess Schram, who interned during this past summer session. 

Resume talk: Social Media

social-media-resume-360Eighty-nine percent of 18- to 29-year-old internet users are now active on social media, yet far too many of those millennials seem to think that adding “Facebook” and “Twitter” to their resumes will set them apart from other candidates and land them a high-paying job.

Too often people neglect to consider the important aspects of social media like listening and engaging, and consider themselves social gurus the moment they tweet about Brazil’s embarrassing soccer skills or Instagram a picture of their lunchtime ‘froyo’ and receive a few stars and hearts in their news feeds.

Newsflash: it’s 2014! Social media is nothing new—even my Nana has an Instagram to flaunt her Boca life in filtered glory.

Now, I’m not saying social media should be totally swiped from your resume. Being able to use social media is important skill in the communications world, but should only be added to your list of talents if you know how to use it effectively.

If you want to position yourself as an intern who knows the ropes on social, use these tips to help you stand out:

1. Know your audience

Think about your audience’s demographic and psychographic.  What do they care about? How can your social posts evoke emotion (humor, excitement, fear, happiness, motivation, etc.) in your readers? Everything you post on social media should be helpful, useful and relevant to your audience. If you can’t answer the question, “Why should they care?” trash it.

 2. Use correct and relevant hashtags

Because hashtags are how people can easily search for topics on social media, they can help get your posts into threads of relevant conversations, and therefore seen by the masses. Using hashtags correctly can increase buzz around your client’s brand and help you target current fans and future stakeholders.

It’s also necessary to start and continue with relevant hashtags to track and improve your social strategy. The number one reason hashtags fail is the lack of consistency between them. Why use #ConferenceX2013 and #ConferenceX2014 when you can track the success of #ConferenceX year after year and compare analytics for ROI? #Duh

3. Play more

Be human!  If your brand allows, don’t be afraid to be funny on social media or create a voice that will set you apart from your competitors. Virgin Mobile’s Twitter  is one of my favorite accounts to follow, and has done a great job of creating a unique voice for itself through playful, humorous tweets.

4. Actively listen and engage

Pushing out content isn’t enough, even if it’s relevant and interesting. If you want to be an all-star social media intern, you need to jump into conversations happening in your client’s industry and actively participate in them. Listen to influencers, engage with fans, answer skeptics’ questions, and reach out to users in your target demographic to build relationships and improve customer loyalty. Listening and engaging should be proactive not reactive practices.

 5. Repeat!

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re still an intern, so you have some time to practice. That said, it’s important to expand your social media use past your personal accounts and get experience writing on behalf of a client or brand. If you don’t already, just ask! No experience? Tell your supervisor you’ve been reading up on social media, but have yet to get your feet wet. This blog’s a good start, don’t you think? Humor me. Even now, after managing more than six accounts throughout my intern years, including my most recent venture to make my cat famous, I still look for ways to improve and practice.

My final advice to you is this: Just because you’re a millennial doesn’t mean you’re an expert on social media, but it also doesn’t mean you can’t be. Know your audience, use hashtags correctly, create a voice for your brand, and most importantly: Listen. Engage. Repeat. (Peppercomm’s mantra.)

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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.”

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This is not the author–but we’re sure he was as happy while doing his job as a carryout boy.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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Sep
16

For Here All Are One

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Today’s guest post is by current Peppercomm intern and future industry star, Alexis Tedesco.

As a recent college graduate the feelings of adjusting to life after college are still more than fresh in my mind.  The echoes of “welcome to the Real World” are still bouncing around my ear drums.  Even my mother’s constant reminder that “the party’s over” still puts me into shock.

Sitting in Alumni Stadium, about to be finished with my 4 years at Boston College, I could not comprehend what post-grad life would really entail.  As I surreally walked across the stage for my diploma, completely packed up my small dorm on campus, and said goodbye to my roommates (more like sisters), I felt like I was being thrust out of the community that I had so lovingly called home.  I was worried because so many of the people that surrounded me for four years encompassed the same values that I held at the center of my life.  What would life be like without these people?

Not that all Boston College kids are the same, but there is a bit of a classic B.C. persona that usually holds true amongst students.  I took pride in the fact that my fellow Superfans were so filled with school spirit that they rarely missed a B.C. game.  I enjoyed being surrounded by people who were type-A overachievers, but still wanted to have fun together on the weekends.  As nerdy as it sounds, I loved being in class with students who enjoyed learning for the sake of learning and always wanted to be part of the discussion.

But most importantly, I would not be able to live without my Eagles who always lived by the moto “For Here All Are One”, this bonding sentiment that we are all united, working together for the same cause, and with each other for every step or fall we take.  This phrase was printed on t-shirts, chanted at sports games, and constantly repeated by faculty.

Needless to say, I was more than ecstatic to visit B.C. for the first time following graduation this weekend; So much so that Grace, a fellow intern, had to ask me at lunch on Friday why I kept randomly grinning during our conversation.  But when I finally arrived and talked with the friends I missed so much about the internship I just began with, I started to realize how much of these same B.C. values Peppercomm embodied.

My friends of course asked me, “What is your favorite part of working with the company?” And I could tell them that I loved Peppercomm for the same reasons I love B.C.: The People.  Peppercomm, like my alma mater, is still filled with hard-working, driven, spirited, but still fun-loving people.  My co-workers who plug away on their accounts and ensure their clients success, are still the same people who eagerly decorate t-shirts for their office-wide softball game.  My fellow interns Grace and Nicole, who I watch crank out pitches and media lists like it’s their job (Oh wait. It is.), will chat to me about their friends and weekends over lunch and happy hour.

Still most importantly, I can say that at Peppercomm “Here All Are One”.  Everyone is happy to work together.  This supportive environment is the same exact thing I experienced at B.C. where I am encouraged to ask questions and learn as much as possible.   Everyone is so willing to make sure that any other co-worker/intern gains the skills we need to grow our careers and help keep this agency at the top.  In this way, every person that I work with truly has the entire company’s interests at heart, and they are willing to do it while having some fun.

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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