Being a Pro Project Manager

22 Sep

workingI joke that most PR people have A.D.D. The work environment, especially that of a PR agency, is not conducive to dedicated focus on any one thing. I almost see a bit of attention flightiness as a good thing. If you’re able to switch from the deep concentration of the byline drafting process to answer a client call, and then wrap that up for an internal team meeting on another client without breaking a sweat – you’re golden.

When I first started my job at KNB, I was tasked with being a project manager. I had advanced to a more senior position and my role as I had known it over the years was going to change. Embarrassingly though, I had to ask my husband what a project manager really does and how the role was any different from what I did on a daily basis as is. It took me only a few seconds to realize, I was pretty much already playing that role, and I had already built the skills necessary to make it an “official” part of my job description. Now when people ask me what I do, silly me quotes the Planet Fitness commercial: “I pick things up and put them down.” Pretty literally, while I write, pitch, strategize and more on a daily basis, most of my job is moving things from one person or place to the next efficiently, and making sure balls don’t get dropped.

It takes a special set of skills to excel as a project manager. Rest assured, these skills are always evolving and there is always room for improvement. No one is perfect. Here’s hoping the following will get you off to a good start as a project manager, or help you revisit or hone your skills in your current role.

  • Organization, organization and organization. It goes without saying, the better organizational skills you have, the better you’ll be at running things. Whatever works for you – list making, charts, grids, online tools – remain dedicated to your best practices. While there might be a need for adapting your organizational styles to your colleagues’ or perhaps your office uses a tool like Basecamp, stick to what you know keeps you organized.
  • It’s all in how you say it. My role at KNB requires me to manage my peers and supervisors (we all really help manage each other as a team). I don’t think any senior staff member would take it well if all I did was distribute bossy emails: “Where is this? It’s due today!” In fact, no one would appreciate that. Ensuring that tactical items progress smoothly, plan well in advance with your team. Have a meeting at the start of every project, or hold a weekly meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page. Be helpful in your tone, not demanding. And lastly, walk the walk. You don’t add much to a team when all you do is facilitate the movement of something. Make sure you are equally contributing and carrying your weight.
  • Plan ahead. Deadlines are missed. It happens. However, in the deadline-driven world of PR and journalism, a missed deadline can be detrimental. Always keep internal deadlines for deliverables to play it safe. If an editor tells you a byline is due November 1, tell your client it’s due October 25 (sorry clients!). This will give you some much needed wiggle room in case something goes awry keeping you from meeting the expected deadline. While this may enable clients to think “oh, we can always get the deadline bumped,” it at least gives you a bit of flexibility.
  • Be smart. Knowing what is important to what team members can save dozens of emails and unnecessary, time-consuming conversations every day. Oftentimes, we think that more information is better. While that can sometimes be the case, I loathe information overload. It taxes your decision making abilities and zaps mental energy. Be considerate of your teammates’ time and try to have an inkling of what’s on everyone’s plate so your entire team can stay focused.
  • Find a balance. No one likes a pest. There is a fine line between following up on things and just being annoying. If you need something from a teammate or client, especially something that’s timely/pressing, follow up once or twice via email depending on the timeframe. If you don’t get an answer, take it to the phones. Most times making a request verbally softens what might seem like a demanding tone over text in an email.

Like I said before, there’s no perfect project manager and there’s no perfect way to do it. Find your style and what works for you and your teammates. Now back to picking things up and putting them down…

#IceBucketChallenge – You Are Helping

11 Aug

Ben Kosinski, founder at Sumpto wrote an article recently on how the #IceBucketChallenge was a big ole FAIL. Check it out here: #IceBucketChallenge: Why You’re Not Really Helping. With no personal offense intended toward Ben (I’ve never met him and I’m sure he’s lovely), I disagree with pretty much everything in the post.

I’ve come across equal amounts of posts in my Facebook feed featuring people dumping ice water over their heads and people slamming the campaign saying how stupid and pointless it is. Here is my take as a PR person: IT’S A GREAT CAMPAIGN.

In everything I do as a public relations professional in my professional life and my volunteer work, I try to accomplish two overarching goals: 1) Get people talking about us and 2) make money. The ALS Association and the creator of the #IceBucketChallenge have accomplished both.

Awareness: Everyone is talking about the challenge. Even in the case where people are slamming the idea, they are still talking about it. And that spurs questions like “Oh, what’s ALS?” I’ll be entirely honest and say I knew very little about ALS other than the connection to Lou Gehrig. Huffington Post, Elle, TIME, NBC News – they are all talking about it! When clients talk about viral campaigns – this is it, folks.

Money: Ben clearly states in his Huffington Post entry: “…the ALS Association has seen as much as four times as many donations during this time period than last year…” Will these donations continue to pour in at such a healthy rate? Sadly, it’s likely they won’t. But brand and awareness building is a marathon, not a sprint. Small campaigns add up to major brand power and recognition.

I’d say this is a job well done. We can all go home now.

However, enter the nonprofit argument used too often: For every dollar we spent on X, we could have donated X. Ben argues that we could have all just donated the cost of the ice bags we bought (who doesn’t have a freezer? You can come to my house and we’ll eat ice cream together.). “…just imagine with me for one second: What if the thousands of people who spent money on buying one or two bags of ice actually gave that money to ALS? It would be out of control.”

What if the March of Dimes stopped making beautiful mailers to call for annual donations? What if the Red Cross of Connecticut just didn’t hold their annual gala? I know. I too believe that some nonprofits could really save money in certain areas to improve their bottom line. But in my opinion, it usually takes money to make money (within reason, of course).

I sincerely applaud the starters of the #IceBucketChallenge. I think it was a great idea that accomplished so much in such a short time. Like with any campaign, the message can get diluted, which I think is why many people are hating on the act. Some who participate and are unaware of why or are unclear on the message can cheapen or water down (no pun intended) the point to where it becomes, in fact, pointLESS. That’s simply a hazard of any campaign that grows at a speedy rate. Two thumbs up to the ALS masterminds behind this initiative from this PR gal.

The Turnover Rate in Public Relations

5 Aug

Laurent L. Lawrence, Associate Director of Public Relations for the PRSA in New York recently penned a great post on Media Bistro: The 4 Culprits Behind PR’s High Turnover Rates. Take a read.

I felt the need to weigh in with my own thoughts here as well. For the sake of ease and brevity, I’ll just go point by point.

The problem: External recruitment rather than internal support

My take: Yes, yes and yes. Once you’ve got at least a year, even less, under your belt in PR, the recruiters start calling and emailing with enticing opportunities elsewhere. Perhaps it’s the human default – the grass is always greener on the other side, and if you aren’t exactly thrilled working where you are, a recruiter might just help you jump ship before someone internally lends you help, valuable career insight or direction. Should I even mention that the recruiters always tout higher salary? Not to give my generation a blanket overgeneralization…but I will…a higher salary will always be enticing to us/me at first glance. Obviously I will do my homework and due diligence, and not simply switch jobs for a dollar sign, but man can a raise sound and feel nice. Sallie Mae is knocking on my door, people!

The problem: Low wage increase is the new normal

My take: I cannot speak from the business owner perspective and won’t pretend like I know the perfect solution to this issue. Like I said above, a more competitive salary is enticing. I used to work for an agency that gave me a raise (even if modest) every six months via formal review and that gave me the warm and fuzzies. It felt good – like I was valued and appreciated. Even if it was an “HR tactic” to keep people on board, I’ll take it. I sound like such a money grubber, sorry. I’m not!

The problem: Lack of management accountability

My take: YES. I have only ever worked for small (and one mid-sized) agencies and a reoccurring theme was lack of guidance, on-boarding, acclimation and training for new people. With that said, I truly believe that this is an issue because senior level management is time-strapped. I’m sure there are exceptions of laziness, burnouts and the like, but no smart business owner will intentionally fail their people from the start – not unless they want to lose clients left and right. I second Lawrence’s sentiments from his entry: “A manager’s responsibilities should always include training, mentoring and protecting their staff by making sure they are properly prepared to do the work being assigned to them.” There must be time allotted for these types of things. Clients’ needs will have to be put aside to allow for this time, but in the end, the better trained and acclimated their team is, the longer the relationship will last (hopefully).

The problem: Non-existent onboarding

My take: Pretty much covered in the above. The only thing I’ll add is that I too have been thrust into a new business pitch the third day I was working at a new firm. I was so unprepared and it was embarrassing. For the sake of solid client relationships and always being perceived as thoughtful, prepared and strategic, no new hire should take part in any external pitches or meetings before they are ready.

If I were to pinpoint one specific issue that threads throughout all points made in this entry, it is this: lack of time and resources. Many of the problems Lawrence points out and their respective solutions have to do with people, namely management, having the appropriate time and resources to:

  • Internally support staff so they aren’t readily poached by recruiters;
  • Research appropriate, competitive industry wages and review staff members every 6-12 months granting them wage increases if earned;
  • Properly advise, oversee and train junior staff.

None of these “fixes” will slow or even stop the high turnover rate in PR anytime soon. This will be a drawn out process. But perhaps if we make time and commit to bettering our staff retention practices, there could be some positive change. Now repeat after me: Sorry client, we can’t come to the phone right now, we have internal onboarding to do so your AE sticks around!

What makes me stick around? Feeling valued, heard, challenged and passionate about the work I’m doing. What about you?

Luis M. Khoury Foundation Golf Classic

8 Jul

Just got the below email from the wonderful Christina Khoury!

Christina’s incredible father, Luis, lost his battle to bilinary cancer two years ago. In memory of Luis, Christina created this fundraiser to donate money to The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins for biliary tract cancer research. Last year was a resounding success (and very fun, and very special) and I strongly urge you to participate this year. You can sponsor a hole, a gift package, play a round, or just volunteer and help out!


On behalf of the Luis M. Khoury Foundation, we invite you to join us in building awareness about biliary tract cancer at the Second Annual Luis M. Khoury Golf Classic at Harbor Links Golf Course on Monday, September 15, 2014. 

Golfers must register by providing the following by Aug. 15 to the Luis M. Khoury Foundation at 34 Whitman Avenue, Syosset, NY 11791:  

A check, payable to the Luis M. Khoury Foundation, with appropriate donation ($250 per golfer)

Golfer(s) first and last names  

Email address for team captain or self 

For more information visit www.LMKhouryFoundation.org or emailChristina@LMKhouryfoundation.org. LMK-INVITE-FRONT-2014

What Companies Expect from Recent Graduates

7 Jul

I recently sat down with KNB Communications intern, Alyssa Garbien to discuss some of her thoughts on what she has and has not been taught in school as she completes her last year of college. It was a topic she’s been particularly hot on since day-one of her internship.

In her blog post, Alyssa dives into what colleges and universities teach students versus what internships and hands-on experience do. Is one better than the other? She compiled some of my personal insights and her thoughts on the KNB blog. Read here!

To hide or not to hide…the crown

22 May

Take a read of Sydnee Waggoner’s HIDING MY CROWN: MY SECRET LIFE AS A FORMER MISS AMERICA CONTESTANT. While I find it a bit hard to believe Sydnee was a) exclusively interested in competing in a pageant for scholarship dollars (You have to in some capacity want the spotlight on you to even step foot on stage. Every pageant girl has an inner ham, even if it’s nearly imperceptible) and b) is secretive about being Miss Alaska as she has it listed on her resume. (No hate, just observations.)

However, it’s nice to read the REAL things she learned as a titleholder that I too can tout. I too learned how to present myself in a professional interview setting, how to test my physical limits and how to deal with pushy people. Of course there are multiple “extracurricular” activities in life that could teach us these same skills – you don’t have to be a pageant queen to learn how to fail gracefully, for instance – but her points validate that the Miss America system offers value beyond pretty faces and tight abs. We are not to be discounted because of your preconceived notions of pageant queens, and I certainly don’t want to be friends with or associate with you if you do.

I personally don’t have my pageant involvement listed on my resume, and I’ve never really explored why or why not. It always comes up in job interviews, however. It’s almost as if I make sure it’s a talking point. “Yes, I can deal gracefully with difficult clients, and tell them things they don’t want to hear without it being catastrophic. I’m a former pageant queen. <giggle>”

Again, take a read of Sydnee’s entry. Let me know what you think. Is “pageant queen” a resume killer? Does it depend on industry? Would love to get your thoughts.

This May 5 – Clean Your Hands…maybe a bit more than you normally do

1 May

5may2014_topI am not a doctor. I am not a microbiologist. To say that I am even any type of expert in the field of healthcare would be a blatant lie.

I have, however, worked for more than a year with a client that has a mission I’m professionally and personally passionate about. DebMed, creators and manufacturers of hand hygiene solutions for the clinical space, are working to make a real impact in the healthcare setting.

Did you know that:

These numbers are inexcusable. Furthermore, these aren’t just numbers – they are people. Dr. Manny Alvarez shares a good account of children who died at a New Orleans children’s hospital due to a fungal outbreak as recently reported in the NY Times. These stories are incredibly sad and heartbreaking.

The most rudimentary measure we can all take to protect ourselves, especially if we are in a hospital or clinic is to clean our hands. It sounds so basic, but it can be life-saving. And don’t come to me with “over-cleaning” and “alcohol-based hand sanitizer is how we got into this post-antibiotic conundrum to begin with.” There are medically fragile and immunocompromised patients in hospitals that must be protected from the spread of infection. That’s a fact. And according to The World Health Organization, healthcare worker hand hygiene compliance is at a disturbingly low 39%.

The systems in place now to monitor hand hygiene compliance of healthcare workers are archaic and inaccurate, and can lend to the Hawthorne Effect. In the case of the oft-used “direct observation” method, a staff member stands behind a doctor or nurse and physically checks a box on a piece of paper to say “yes, this person cleaned his or her hands.” That’s cost and time ineffective.

Also, most hospital systems use the “in-and-out” method. This means doctors and nurses wash their hands only when they enter and leave a patient’s room. What happens when they touch the patient and then the respirator next to the bed? What happens when they touch the hand rail of the bed that a visitor of the patient also touched not long ago and brought in some 2-10 million germs we carry on our hands at any given time? (It needs to be said also, no doctor or nurse goes to work deliberately intending to infect patients with deadly HAIs. They are at risk too. Let’s not demonize the incredibly busy, stretched-too-thin healthcare professionals for not cleaning their hands “frequently enough.”)

For a healthcare system that is so advanced in care and technology, how is it that lives are lost needlessly despite simple, preventative efforts such as proper hand hygiene?

This Monday marks the annual May 5, World Health Organization’s Save Lives: Clean Your Hands Day. Join me in spreading awareness about the dangers of HAIs and how the spread of these nasty bugs can be prevented. Now, go! Clean your hands. :)

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