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This week, meet the Intern Committee’s newest member, Sara Faxon, a New York native who loves the outdoors and spends her time hiking, cooking, and going to see live music. Sara supports the team in all areas from university relations to onboarding, and recruiting.
Ok, let’s get the basics out of the way. Where are you from and where did you go to school?
SF: I split the early years of my childhood between London and New York but consider myself a true New Yorker. For college I went to Washington University in St. Louis. I loved my layover in the Midwest but am definitely happy to be back on the east coast.
How did you get into PR and Peppercomm?
SF: I was always interested in the ways in which people communicate and disseminate information. Whether that be through language or writing, the human connection continues to fascinate me. I guess that is what drove me to major in Anthropology and Writing in college. I found myself excelling in classes that involved forward thinking and collaboration, so when I graduated I knew I wanted to find a job that offered me a similar environment. Peppercomm was a perfect fit since it encourages team work and pushes you to think out of the box.
What is your go-to interview question?
SF: I always ask specific questions about a candidate’s past experience. While it is not necessary for them to have a background in public relations/communications coming into the internship, I look for people who can extract important skills or lessons from those past experiences and apply them to the field. It is always impressive and significant when someone can create a growth story from their past.
SF: While this industry can definitely be overwhelming at times, I think it is important for interns to be willing and open to adapt and jump in head first. A sense of curiosity is also necessary. At Peppercomm, our clients really run the gamut from consumer to financial and B2B. A willingness to really understand your client and their goals will definitely set one intern apart from the others.
What is your favorite thing about Peppercomm?
SF: For me, it is definitely the people and culture. Peppercomm creates such a supportive and fun environment but also pushes me to produce great work. It’s hard to find an agency that really strikes that balance, perfectly. I’m constantly surprised by how patient and willing people are to teach me knew things and let me in on industry secrets. Peppercomm’s culture is also unlike anywhere else. We have a designated ‘culture committee’ that organizes group activities like going to see a Broadway show, Dodgeball games and neighborhood tours!
Dear College Seniors,
Let’s face it. There’s a reason we refer to post-grad life as “the real world.” The phrase reflects the idea that the college experience exists in a protected, bunker-like environment, shielded from the unsolicited elements of adulthood, such as corporate jargon and mid-summer obligations. But don’t let this reality sway you to delay your diploma, for there are many benefits in store for those who “exit the bunker.”
For verification, we need not look further than Kimmy Schmidt, star of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Tina Fey’s new sit-com featuring 29-year-old Kimmy as she adjusts to life in the Big Apple (like a boss) after spending 15 years in a doomsday cult bunker. So without further adieu, here are three Kimmy-inspired tricks to help you adapt to the real world upon your bunker departure:
1. Attitude is everything.
Sure, being within arm’s reach of both your best friend and a red Solo cup at all times gets comfortable after four years, but there’s no bigger bummer than the kid who got his/her diploma three years ago and is still residing in his/her parents’ basement pouting about the fact that the college years are in the past. You’ll come to find that for the most part, the most successful young adults are those who find it within themselves to believe the best is yet to come.
Take the pro-tip that Kimmy Schmidt shared with her roommate, Tituss, when he’s facing a spell of uncertainty: “Life beats you up…you can either curl up in a ball and die like we thought Cindy did that time, or you can STAND UP and say, ‘We’re different. We’re the strong ones. And you can’t break us!’”
Hint: Don’t be a Cindy.
2. Flee the comfort zone.
When it’s time to bolt your bunker, don’t just “go back to Dernsville and get your braces off” like Kimmy’s fellow cult victim (the one in the pink sweater). You’re in your early 20s; time to ditch the comfort zone in pursuit of adventure!
With a mere 8th grade education under her belt, Kimmy was able to relocate to NYC, land a job, and find a place to live. You already have several more resources than Kimmy had at her disposal upon exiting the bunker, and pretty soon you’ll have a college degree to top it all off. USE IT. Do your research, put yourself out there, and pretty soon you’ll be parroting Kimmy on phrases like, “What in the ham sandwich, I just got a job!”
3. Don’t let the Richard Wayne Gary Wayne’s of the world get you down.
In the unlikely event that you haven’t realized this by now, the world is running rampant with difficult people—from biased professors and lazy peers, to unresponsive clients and corrupt executives. When you inevitably encounter one of these challenging individuals, you can either let it affect you, or you can borrow Kimmy’s attitude toward Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, the cult leader responsible for kidnapping her and her fellow bunker hostages in the first place.
Rather than allowing RWGW’s insanity to drive Kimmy to her breaking point, she rises up and focuses solely on those elements that are within her control. Take a hint and reinforce your spirit so as not to let the idiots of the world hinder your success. You too can become unbreakable.
So you see, just because you don’t have sufficient weight in your wallet to hire Tina Fey to write your “life after college” story, doesn’t mean you can’t Tina F-ake it til’ you make it. As the theme song goes, it’s gonna’ be “a fascinating transition” (dammit)!
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.
** Treat yo-self: Lousy in Little League
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?”
“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.
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:
- I’m a pescatarian (because I couldn’t give up sushi).
- I’m a hula hooper (because I couldn’t give up childhood).
- I’m a Kiwi (because I couldn’t give up New Zealand after studying abroad).
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.