communication and pr… Three Things I Do to Improve My Communication Abilities by Janet Krenn

In The Public Relations Strategist, I recently read an article called: “Leading in Tough Times” by David Grossman (APR, Fellow of PRSA, and CEO of The Grossman Group). The article had several bits of interesting information, but one point stuck with me. Grossman points out that just because you write or talk doesn’t mean that you are communicating.

“If your audience isn’t understanding you, then it doesn’t matter what you are saying. Communication happens in the mind of the listener,” Grossman writes. In other words, the difference between writing and communication is how well you’ve reached your audience.

For people who aren’t in public relations or journalism, this concept is just about completely foreign! In school, other departments teach students to write in academic prose, which is typically too wordy with too many clauses and too stilted for consumption by the average individual. Just because you communicate well with an academic, doesn’t mean that you are communicating well overall.

In my opinion (and I don’t believe this is original thought, but maybe just difficult to determine to whom to attribute it), there are three things we can do to better communicate with a general audience:

1. Prune
How many times have I written useless words in this article? “Just”, “so”, the list continues. Trimming back these useless words and some redundant sentences would make any written piece more understandable. As William Zinsser, author of “On Writing Well”, wrote “It won’t do to say that the snoozing reader is too dumb or too lazy to keep pace with the train of thought. My sympathies are with him. If the reader is lost, it is generally because the writer has not been careful enough to keep him on the path.”

2. Practice
We all practice writing at work–it’s part of the job! But what do you do to practice when you’re not in the office? Later, I might practice by writing a long update email to some friends or by adding to the pages of my neglected journal. Right now, I’m practicing by writing this blog post. If you’re looking for more ways to practice your writing and communication, New Professionals members can also write for this blog. (Contact me if you’re interested.)

3. Read
It’s no secret that the best writers are enthusiastic readers. Now, we find so many sources of content, narrowing down options has become tough. Hundreds-of-thousands of books are published each year, and maybe as many blogs are posted each day. Then you have newspapers, social media. So how do you find what to read? On top of my work-related updates on Google Reader, the dailies, and the weeklies, I typically take recommendations from magazines, friends, or colleagues. (Did you notice that your New Pros group has been reading and discussing 3 books during our “Summer Book Club”? It’s not too late to participate in the August’s book “Crush it!; we’ll discuss the book on the blog during the first two weeks of next month.)

What about you? How well do you think you communicate with your intended audience? Do you have tips or tricks that keep you on your game?

JANET KRENN is the 2010 Chair of the New Professionals of PRSA and will be hosting the “CRUSH It!” discussion during our Summer Book Club in August. You can contact her at janetqs(a) or @janetkrenn.

career advice… Real People Think This is OK When Job Hunting, but It’s Not by Janet Krenn

I’ve been completely astounded by the way that people act in networking and job-hunting situations; and I start to wonder, how could any rational person think that this is OK?

The only way I can explain it? These crazy interactions must be the unhappy result of someone misapplying generic advice. Here are real stories of bad networking behavior that I have witnessed along with the four bits of generic networking and job hunting advice that I want to bring to your attention. By all means, apply these pieces of advice, but please do so with a healthy amount of restraint!

Generic Advice #1: Don’t be afraid to take a risk.
How much “risk” should you as a job hunter take? Risk can indicate that you are a leader or that you are confident. But if the risk turns out to be a disaster, you may come off as arrogant or reckless.

Bad Application: Taking a risk without considering whether the risk will give you the desired outcome.
Once I was at a trade show with our CEO. A newly minted graduate and now intern planted himself in our exhibit space. While the CEO was off talking with someone else, the recent grad indicated to me that he thought our company was interesting and inquired whether we were hiring. We weren’t right now, I told him, but if he’d like to drop off a resume, we’d hold onto it. He walked away, but when he came back, he didn’t have a resume–He had redesigned the company logo and started pitching his unsolicited redesign to the CEO.

Generic Advice #2: Don’t be afraid of networking! Get your name out there. Show your face.
When I lament to my boyfriend that my bike needs some work, but I didn’t know where to take it. He says in reply, “Oh, if only there was some international network of information that you could use to find this out!” ┬áThere is no excuse for walking into any prospective partner, employer, or client’s office as if you were conducting a “cold call”.

Bad Application: Contacting an individual about whom you know nothing.
The other day, a job hunter walks into my office and asks, “Do you know who the expert is in XYZ?” and then “What can you tell me about him?” This gent wanted to establish a partnership with someone at my company, and assumed that just because I had a desk on campus that I was going to have answers for him. When I told him I didn’t know who he should talk to, he asked that I look into it and email him. Which brings me to #3…

Generic Advice #3: Ask for help.
Finding a job is work. You can probably look to your close friends and colleagues to help you drum up business or interviews. Be careful whom you ask for help.

Bad Application: Asking others to carry you.
When you ask for assistance from someone who doesn’t know you better, you run the risk of looking unambitious or lazy, and once you’ve made that impression, you have a slim chance that that connected individual will want to recommend you for an interview.

Generic Advice #4: Contact the hiring manager before you submit your resume. Ask questions during your interview.
The questions you ask a hiring manager could make you appear thoughtful and intelligent. The caveat is: In order to appear thoughtful and intelligent, your questions need to be thoughtful and intelligent. Walking into a networking situation or a job interview, you should already know why you want to be there.

Bad Application: Asking a company to tell you how you could benefit from this position.
Don’t contact a hiring manager and ask her to justify why you should want the job. This seems obvious, right? I’m only bringing it up, because I’ve seen it happen more than once. If you don’t know why you should want the job, don’t waste anyone’s time. Don’t apply, and don’t bother the hiring manager. You never know when that hiring manager will be posting a job you are interested in, and you don’t want to have that first negative interaction hanging over your head.

JANET KRENN has never been a hiring manager, and even so, she’s seen some job hunters doing some wacky things. She is also the 2010 Chair of the New Professionals of PRSA. You can contact her at janetqs(a) or @janetkrenn.

social media… Dear Facebook, Please Grant Me (and other Page admins) These 5 Functions by Janet Krenn

To celebrate PRSA New Pros’ new Facebook URL (, I thought I’d revisit the popular topic of managing a Facebook Page for public relations and business.

Previously, I wrote a post called Facebook Group v. Facebook Fan Page–Never build a group page. I got emails from all over the world (no kidding) from folks trying to launch their own Facebook Fan Page for their businesses. Most of these folks were wondering, Have I experienced other problems they were finding? If not, how did I solve them?

Although I’ve been pretty good at answering readers’ emails, I thought, I might as well hammer out a new post (1) to let you know you’re not not alone; these functions really do not exist, and you don’t have to waste your time hunting down an answer–I’ve already wasted enough time for the both of us–(2) in hopes that some Facebook functionality genie will see this article and grant us these five functions.

1. Page admins should have the option to comment as an individual.

I think everyone who has emailed me has asked if I figured out how to comment as Janet on the Fan Pages for which I’m also an admin. Sadly, when admins comment on their wall, they can only do so as a representative of the group. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to comment as Janet on the New Pros Facebook Fan Page, but didn’t because I didn’t want my sometimes snarky attitude to be under the New Pros veil. Facebook, if your listening, make some option so that Admins can comment on the wall as individuals or as the group.

2. Admins should be allowed to edit a wall post for a period of time after its submitted.

The same is true for personal pages, but I’ll tell ya, there’s nothing worse than setting up the link, choosing the thumbnail, typing some copy and then finding you wrote “ther” instead of “the”. LinkedIN has a good model. That platform allows the poster to edit for 15 minutes after hitting submit. Facebook, I know you’re for kids and not for brands, but brands love you! Show the brands a little love and make it a little easier for us to correct typos or bad links without trashing the whole post.

3. Don’t make me choose! Let admins post more than one html bit (photos, links, videos) at the same time.

Facebook, why not? Most of the time, it really doesn’t matter, but consider this: Sometimes you want to link to a page, and the page doesn’t have any good image. So instead of a visually interesting wall post with my Page’s avatar and an interesting little image, my links don’t emit no interesting visual cue. Why can’t I upload a photo from my own computer AND include a link in one wall post?

4. Simplify the event forms.

If you’ve ever tried to schedule an event on your Facebook Fan Page, you know that you have to click through 3 times before you can publish. And each time you click, you have to put in more information. Okay, so this isn’t a functionality issue. It’s just an ease issue. Facebook, please streamline your event forms! Start by eliminating those pesky drop-down menus that do not correctly categorize my event, but you insist that I use.

5. Have updates to the discussion tab appear on the Fan Page wall.

I have no idea why you haven’t included this function. Discussions are like forums, and everyone expects that the front page of a forum will alert with the newest threads and the newest comments. I would love to use the discussions tab, but I’m not going to bother members with an email every time a discussion gets updated. And let’s be honest, without those updates appearing on the wall, I’ll forget about it anyway.

JANET KRENN administers two Facebook Fan Pages and wonders whether Facebook will ever update some of its functions to make life as a PR and marketer a littler easier. (She is also your 2010 New Pros of PRSA Chair, and the past, 2009, Communication Chair. Follow her on Twitter @JanetKrenn or contact her janetqs(a)

networking… “What do you do?” and Why Your Answer is Wrong by Janet Krenn

Networking. It’s how you can get a job. It’s how you can self-promote. It’s important in every profession. For many of us, networking is a mystery. I mean, how do you go from “hello” to getting a job? How do you go from “nice to meet you” to let’s collaborate?

My local PRSA chapter held a speed networking event last month, and it opened my eyes! The speaker presented on “Make Your Contacts Count: Networking know-how for business and career success” by Anne Barber and Lynne Waymon, and I foudn that I have been giving the wrong answer to the very first question asked in any networking conversation–“What do you do?”

By giving one of the two popular incorrect answers, I’ve been missing opportunities to describe my value, achievements, and goals. Instead, I provided meaningless, but easy, responses. In short, I’ve been failing at personal branding.

Wrong Answer #1: I work for a company.

I used to say, “I work for McDougal Littell” and those in the textbook publishing industry were usually impressed. Maybe you work for GE, and you know that dropping the company name will sound impressive. But the company name doesn’t promote you and your strengths. In the first minutes of conversation, I neglected to give my conversation partner any interesting information. What if they’ve never heard of your company before? Will you have to spend valuable networking time explaining the company rather than your own value?

Wrong Answer #2: I am a job title.

No matter how much you like your job, you are not your job title. How many other people are in PR? Thousands! By saying you are a job title, all of your achievements and goals, the reasons why someone should want to work with you, are hidden. Will an answer like, “I’m an account manager” get you recommended for job openings? Probably not.

Right Answers are Descriptive

I can much more easily point out the wrong answers than to give you a blanket “right” one. Basically, you want to give a quick, descriptive answer that is achievement driven (what have you accomplished? how have you accomplished it?), goal oriented (what are your goals when you enter the office? what are your long term goals?), value-added (what value do you have as an employee? what are your strengths?), and inspire questions (will your descriptive answer lead the conversation to those probing questions that will help you reveal your value, achievements, and goals?).

Myself as an Example

As I said, I used to answer “What do you do?” with lack-luster answers, such as, “I work for Virginia Sea Grant” or “I am a communicator.”

After more thought, I’ve started to elaborate to say, “I translate science to non-scientists.” But even this slightly more descriptive answer doesn’t explain the value of my skills well. So I kept adding, pruning, and rethinking my answer to the “What do you do” question, until I got to the answer at the end of this post.

What do you do?

Well, how might you answer this networking question to best show off your achievements, goals, and value? To celebrate our newly unlocked comments section of this blog (no log-in necessary to participate), write your own new-and-improved response to the What do you do? question.

JANET KRENN helps coastal industry, and communities make ecologically and economically sound decisions by translating science to non-scientists. (She is also your 2010 New Pros of PRSA Chair, and the past, 2009, Communication Chair. Follow her on Twitter @JanetKrenn or contact her janetqs(a)

Intro to series…Small Business PR by Janet Krenn

Odds are, as a new PR professional you may find yourself working for a small business. What makes me say so? For starters, half of all private sector employees work for small businesses and small businesses generated 60 to 80 percent of new jobs, so says the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Many of these businesses need PR help. A small business might higher young talent to keep expenses down, and you, as the young talent, might be interested in the additional responsibility that comes with working for a small business.

When working for a small business, your employer is your client. Small businesses offer a lot of opportunity for new PR pros like you, who might gain access to projects and responsibilities you might not get at larger companies. On the other hand, the smaller the business, the more non-PR work you might be expected to do, anywhere from admin to marketing to taking out the trash.

The term “small business” is allusive. The U.S. SBA tailors its definition of “small business” based on industry, but typically small businesses have fewer than 500 employees and make fewer than $14 million. This covers a huge spectrum, and it has a bearing on what you can expect from working in at a particular small business.

For an idea of what it will be like to work for a small business, pay attention to the number of employees a company has.

What PR activities could you expect to do?

The smaller the company, the more likely that you’ll be asked to take on multiple PR tasks. For example, if you’re the only PR professional at a small business, you may be required to write press releases, conduct media relations, and work on internal communications. On the other hand, the larger the company, the more likely that you will have a well-defined role and might have specialized work.

What are industry-specific challenges?

The major challenge to small businesses is limited resources. This might mean you have to get creative with your project budget. It also means you may have to learn to go without something that you previously thought was non-negotiable.

Working for a small business can also pose a professional challenge. You will probably be challenged to develop a skill set that you lacked. You will probably be challenged to multitask several various projects and tasks on a regular basis.

What kind of non-PR coursework/skills/interests could be helpful?

Not only should be well-trained in writing and PR, it would be helpful for you to have some coursework in
(1) the specific industry in which the small business belongs. You may not know exactly what you want to do; you probably couldn’t predict exactly where you will end up working; so dabble in anything that seems interesting to you. If you’re still in school, don’t be afraid to use those elective credits to explore the world beyond PR.
(2) marketing and business. Working for a small business may mean that you will have to take on business and marketing functions as well as PR ones.
(3) design. Again, the smaller the business, the more odds and ends you’ll have to take on. Having an understanding of web and print design could go a long way in a company with no designer or one who is out sick in the middle of a pressing deadline.

How can I find a PR job in a small business?

In one word: Networking. The smaller the business the less likely they will (1) know how or where to advertise a position or (2) be willing to pay fees to advertise a position only to receive a grab bag of candidates. Aside from networking, check publications and websites that offer localized listings, as small businesses might be unable to pay relocation fees and instead hope to draw a pool of candidates that are already living in their area. Local small business associations and bureaus might be another good place to start.

Janet Krenn is a Sea Grant Communicator at Virginia Sea Grant.