Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Personal Branding Starts with An Inside Job

Developing a personal brand starts with an inside job. So, before you trumpet it to the world, you must get clear about who you are, what you stand for, and your values. You must then cultivate an ironclad understanding of the impact of your work. Then, and only then, can you comfortably and confidently share your brand with others. 

This course of action rings especially true if you want to be authentic and transparent. You cannot simply wish them into existence. Rather, they represent ideal states we must continue to work towards achieving over time.

As a result, one’s so-called “brand” often reflects an individual, transactional focus. It’s devoid of the perspective and insight that being out in the world can offer. In other words, you cannot lock yourself in a room to map out your “personal brand” devoid of the broader context.

I know that when my interests, values, and activities conflict, it’s uncomfortable, even painful.  Ultimately, I am less than satisfied with professional opportunities that I encounter.

More importantly, when you tout a personal brand that doesn’t match who you actually are, I believe it’s patently obvious to others. That only hurts you over time. 

Yes, we need to define ourselves lest others do so to our disadvantage. Yet action divorced from deeply held and felt beliefs and values is doomed to fail. So, look inward before you communicate outward, if you hope to build a personal brand that lasts. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Should I Attend School Online or in a Traditional Classroom?

I recently responded to a Reddit query from an individual seeking guidance on whether to attend school online to earn his degree. To that end, I share what I've learned and observed as an instructor and student in online and traditional classrooms settings.

I rely heavily on visual and verbal cues in the classroom, not to mention the energy of a live audience. If you find that environment most conducive for learning, you may struggle with online work as much of what I described is absent or markedly different (and takes time to adjust to).

Studying online seems to require more effort. For one, it’s easy to get distracted (you think you can multitask because no one sees you). Second, staring at a computer screen can be more exhausting than going to a physical classroom

These points aside, online learning works well if you’re disciplined, truly committed to learning (and not just doing the bare minimum to pass), and desire/benefit from the greater flexibility online classes can offer. Example: if you’re a night owl, you could attend class then (assuming it’s not a live class).

In short, online learning also makes a ton of sense if a) you want to earn a degree not offered by a university in your geographic area; 2) you neither have the time or desire to travel to a physical location to attend class; and/or c) the traditional university experience isn’t that important to you.

More of My Thoughts About Public Relations and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)

Fourteen months ago, I share my perspectives on public relations and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) here. I've updated and expanded on some of those points, with the resulting copy published on the PRSA/San Francisco Bay Area blog here. I encourage you to check it out. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Loneliness and the Quest to Find Professional Community

I recently attended the International Academy of Business Disciplines, an annual academic gathering. Over 200 individuals from around the world attended. It was my first visit. I knew one member from prior professional events. By the end of the conference, I had met and spoken with countless others. I felt connected, engaged, inspired, and happy. I felt like part of a community. 

I won’t see the majority of the people I met for at least a year, assuming I attend the 2020 event. That prospect leaves me feeling sad, and, once again, lonely as a professional.

That’s not a new feeling. Far from it. Nor is my quest to forge professional connections and a sense of community which I feel day in, day out. 

I see the origins of my conundrum in 1992, when I decided to become self-employed in public relations. I had had enough of working for people I considered difficult and insensitive. I figured I could do the kind of work I had done on my own, and achieve much greater professional satisfaction. 

I did, gradually, build my business. My productivity skyrocketed in the short term as I no longer had to engage in small talk with colleagues. I no longer needed to fight to use office equipment. I didn’t have to go out for lunch. I could simply head upstairs to my kitchen to help myself to whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it.

I thrived. Or so I thought. But I worked alone. I was, for most of the time, alone.

Sure, I stayed in touch with colleagues. That’s how I built my business, after all. I got to know the people I had worked with and they hired me over the years. And I met with clients at their offices. Occasionally, I hired subcontractors to help me when I couldn’t complete client work on my own. 

But I remained physically alone, for the most part. And I often felt lonely, although I didn’t consciously admit it. 

I didn’t feel like I had a professional community. I didn’t have a group of people who understood what I did, or were familiar with the issues I faced. I didn’t have a group of supporters who cheered me on. More importantly, I didn’t have colleagues who would challenge my flawed thinking. I didn’t have anyone to contradict my self-limiting beliefs. In other words, I had no one to show me some tough love when I needed it. And, boy, did I need it then (and still do now). 

Eventually I changed careers, getting into teaching and then higher education full-time. And still I felt alone. I was an adjunct instructor, not a full-timer. I considered myself an excellent teacher. Nonetheless, I felt adrift as an outside. My tenured or tenure-track faculty simply didn’t understand (or care about) my career. My feelings of loneliness persisted.

I’ve entered what I consider the golden age of my career. And I still feel lonely on a professional level. Sure, I’m active in professional associations. I have a full-time teaching position at a school. And yes, I’m active on social media. Virtual contacts and “conversation” don’t necessarily translate to meaning connections, however. Thus, I still often feel alone and even isolated.

I’m still looking for that team of supporters. I still crave the kinds of relationships that support me in good times, and challenge me to do better. So I need to keep working to make myself ready to find it, and subsequently allow it to manifest in my life. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

That Cold and Dark Yet Comfortable Place

“Accept it.”

“Focus on your part in the problem, and address that. Don’t worry about what anyone else says or does; you cannot control it.”

“Relax and take it easy.” 

Sometimes these words don’t work in tough times. They don’t penetrate. They do not mean anything. In short, they’re just not helpful.

And yet you remain stuck. You're trapped in a morass of loneliness and frustration. You're overwhelmed by disbelief towards the world as you encounter it.  Your frustration grows while pondering how it might be different, for the better. You know at some point you’ll escape this vicious process. It will change. Things will get better. But you don’t know how or when.

So, you wait. Not so patiently. You attempt to do your best. You try to make due. 

And if you’re at all like me, you retreat. You return to a well-worn web of thinking and being. It provides a safe space. But it's safe only in so far as you don’t have to engage, think about, much less attempt to address, what ails you. 

You don’t talk about it. You don’t answer the phone when someone calls. You don’t pick up the phone to reach out to anyone to discuss your situation. From your troubled perspective, talking about your problem only makes it worse. You’d rather pretend it didn’t exist. You hope that others will do the same even when they know something troubles you. 

You survive, but barely. Nothing good comes out of remaining in this space. You know it's only temporary, but that offers little relief. 

But it’s actually not a temporary place for you. Sure, you’ll be leaving at some point but the space never dissipates entirely. It’s always there waiting for you. You wonder if it’s inherited, but neither of your parents talked about it when you were growing up.  Nor have you ever raised the subject with them. As a result, its genesis and nature ultimately remains a mystery. You desperately want to understand and analyze it; you don't want to retreat. But you have and you will. Maybe it is indeed part of your “inheritance.” Regardless, you must continue to engage with the mystery while believing better times await.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

How the Public Relations Campaigns Class Can Better Meet the Needs of Nonprofit Organizations: A Preview of a Panel I'm Moderating on April 5, 2019

In late 2001, I was hired to teach a class entitled “Public Relations Campaigns” to undergraduate students majoring in communication studies at University of San Francisco (USF). Here’s the course description and learning objectives as outlined in the syllabus.

Course Description

This course offers students the opportunity to develop a public relations campaign for a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization.  The class functions as a public relations agency, with the instructor as agency principal who evaluates student performance in class participation and assignments as a professional manager would evaluate an employee. The class will be divided into groups consisting of up to four students, and each group will be responsible for a client and a specific project. Depending on the needs and budget of each client, the campaigns will either be planned or planned and implemented. Each team will produce a campaign book of professional quality, which will be presented to the client and the rest of the class during the last session of the course.  This campaign book may be used in your attempt to secure employment in the public relations field.  

Course Objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify organizational problems and develop solutions to public relations challenges, while gaining hands-on experience in working with clients;
  2. Master the public relations problem-solving process, and apply it to real-life situations;
  3. Cultivate skills involving group work through completion of project and in-class exercises;
  4. Conduct research that helps formulate plans and assists with decision making;
  5. Complete public relations efforts that help clients successfully meet challenges specific to their circumstances; and
  6. Develop a written public relations campaign and presentation of viable, long-term public relations solutions.

Since then, I’ve taught the class in a variety of formats and in different contexts. Currently, I teach it to graduates students enrolled in the MA program in professional communication at USF

Graduate students in my "Communications Consultancy" class at University of San Francisco present their public relations campaign for the Randall Museum in San Francisco, Summer 2019

All public relations campaigns courses I’ve taught have been inspired by a similar practical orientation. I thus immediately saw the course as an opportunity to students to actually “do” public relations, as opposed to reading about other people “doing” public relations. To this end, I recognized immediately the unique perspective I brought to the classroom as both a practitioner and instructor. I relished the challenge of blending both worlds and in turn, hopefully even inspiring some of my students to pursue work in the public relations field when they considered longer-term career options after graduation.  

At the same time, I recognized that the class filled a unique role in the different curricula offered by programs for which I taught. Without anyone telling me it was so, I considered the class as the logical outcome of the students’ experiences in prior public relations classes—regardless of what that was, whether they had completed scattered elective public relations classes at USF or a formal degree program in the field if they attended another institution (as USF did not offer a degree in public relations).   

My perspective was not unique. Scholarship has consistently considered the public relations campaigns course as the “capstone,” or culminating, experience in undergraduate degree programs. Thus, it bears the weight of expectations in terms of preparing students for professional practice (Aldoory & Wrigley, 1999; Benigni & Cameron, 1999). 

Working with real organizations solving actual problems lies at the heart of this approach. Yet I was given little guidance on how to incorporate actual organizations into the class when I first started teaching it, although I was advised “it would be nice” if I could include organizations that shared the Jesuit-run USF’s social justice focus, in terms of wanting its graduates “to make the world better — more fair, more just, more livable for more people.”

Nonprofit organizations in particular fit that mandate best, so I proceeded to recruit such organizations. First, I reached out to organizations I had worked for over the prior decade as a public relations consultant. Second, I reached out to other individuals in my professional network who either worked for or with other nonprofit organizations located throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. 

“Service learning,” or, as it’s now referred to, “community engaged learned,” was not yet a requirement for undergraduates at University of San Francisco when I first started to teach the class. Service learning involves students in a range of activities that benefits others (including a particular organization); it’s been described as a form experiential learning with a decided focus on outcomes that have an impact beyond those of the classroom. At USF, service learning was slowly gaining adoption across the curriculum when I started teaching the public relations campaigns course. Courses were beginning to align themselves with service learning principles and practices by the mid-2000s, making more options available for students who needed to participate in a service learning experience through a class in order to graduate. I gradually became part of this wave albeit informally and largely based on my own initiative.  

Again, I was not alone in this effort. In fact, the public relations campaigns course has become a model for incorporating service learning into the public relations curriculum. That’s because it relies on using real, off-campus, nonprofit organizations as clients (Rogers & Andrews, 2016). 

The particulars of establishing, maintaining, and incorporating the experiences of nonprofit partners into the class within this service learning framework has emerged as a key theme in the scholarly literature on the course. Aldoory and Wrigley (2000) and Benigni, Cheng, and Cameron (2004) mention this connection, which subsequent researchers (see for example Allison, 2008; Farmer, Perry, & Ha, 2016; Harrison & Bak, 2017) have explored more fully. They focus largely on how educators and students alike can address course-related client challenges. 

As the needs of the two latter stakeholders have been addressed at length by other researchers, I didn’t feel their needs relative to the course warranted further inquiry. 

Yet I wondered: Where are the nonprofit organizations in this equation?  They are supposed to benefit from students’ efforts on their behalf in the public relations campaigns course. Are they? And to what extent? Are their needs being met, above and beyond their desire to work with students? How does their work with public relations students mesh with broader public relations activities they undertake on behalf of their organization? On this point, Rogers & Andrews (2016) argue nonprofits require better education about public relations to help instructors prepare students in the campaigns class, and thus their needs ought to be incorporated into scholarship on the course. If, when, and how this education of nonprofit organizations and their representatives happens remains to be explored in this literature, moreover. 

As a former public relations practitioner, I’m intrigued by this subject. As a long-time instructor of the public relations campaigns course, I couldn’t help but wonder what more I could have done to help my nonprofit partners above and beyond the general promise of offering potentially useful communications-related products they might call upon in their subsequent internal and/or external communications activities. 

I thus was inspired to organize a panel to explore these interrelated topics. It will take place the upcoming International Academy of Business Disciplines Annual Conference, to be held in Jacksonville, Florida from April 3-5, 2019.  

Three of us--me, Roberta “Bobbi” Doggett from the University of North Florida and Eric W. Hoffman of Flagler College, will grapple with the challenges associated with working with nonprofit organizations in the public relations campaigns class as we provide our thoughts in response to the following questions:

  • How do you recruit nonprofit clients for your public relations campaigns class?
  • How do you prepare them to work with students? 
  • To what extent do you feel a need to educate them about public relations? 
  • How do you educate them?
  • Have you considered modifying or expanding your education efforts? Why or why not?

I anticipate we’ll collectively identify best practices. More importantly, I hope our effort will at some point result in a contribution to the body of knowledge on how to best work with nonprofit organizations that choose to partner with our students in the public relations campaigns course.


Aldoory, L., & Wrigley, B. (1999). Exploring the use of real clients in the PR campaigns course. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 54(4), 47-58.

Allison, A. W. (2008). A Best Practices Service Learning Framework for the Public Relations Campaigns Course. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 8(3), 50-60.

Benigni, V. L., & Cameron, G. T. (1999). Teaching PR campaigns: The current state of the art. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 54(2), 50-60. 

Farmer, B. A., & Lane Graves Perry, I. I. I. University-Community Engagement and Public Relations Education: A Replication and Extension of Service-Learning Assessment in the Public Relations Campaigns Course. The International Journal of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement, 4(1).

Harrison, G. B., & Bak, E. N. (2017). Service-Learning in a Public Relations Campaign Class: How Contingency Management Supports Positive Outcomes. Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, 8(2), 79-91.

Rogers, C., & Andrews, V. (2016). Nonprofits’ expectations in PR service–learning partnerships. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 71(1), 95-106.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

My Research on the Role of Public Information Officers (PIOs) in Emergency Response: Results of a Pilot Study

In 2018, I began my research on the role of Public Information Officers (PIOs) in emergency response. I subsequently reported on what the academic literature says about this subject. Since then, I've conducted  interviews with PIOs, analyzed my notes, and written them up as a pilot study. I'll be presenting that pilot study at the International Academy of Business Disciplines Annual Conference, which will take place from April 3-5, 2019 in Jacksonville, FL.

Here's an abstract, or summary, of the paper on the pilot study. Go here to listen to a recording of my presentation based on the paper. 

***** Research on the Public Information Officer (PIO)’s role during emergency or disaster situations wants for further critical inquiry (Curnin & Owen, 2014; Vidoloff, 2011). More specifically, what is missing from existing research is a consideration of how PIOs navigate the National Incident Management System (NIMS)’ Incident Command System (ICS) to fulfill their responsibilities. The ICS provides a systematic, proactive approach and template to help agencies respond to emergency situations. (“National Emergency Management Plan,” 2014; “NIMS:Frequently Asked Questions,” n.d.; Vidoloff, 2011). 

This pilot study, based on semi-structured interviews with six PIOs working for public sector organizations in California, aimed to achieve an understanding of how PIOs fulfilled their responsibilities in emergency response, in particular, the strategies and techniques they used to maneuver through a federal system only encountered during emergencies. Results highlighted the importance placed by PIOs on relationships, relationship building, and training and education prior to emergencies to help them perform their duties, although research questions precluded the exploration of specific strategies and tactics employed to manage the intricacies of the NIMS framework. Moreover, the researcher’s inability to secure the participation/sponsorship of a professional association representing PIOs in a specific industry/context meant study participants represent a range of professional interests and skills. Future research would best be based on broader participation of PIOs, working within a specific organization or context, to focus on how they built and maintain relationships prior to and during emergencies that in turn translated into specific actions taken to manage the complexities of NIMS.*****    

Friday, January 25, 2019

How Do You Advance in Public Relations? Start By Earning Your Accreditation in Public Relations (APR)

Anyone can claim to practice public relations. Anyone. Edward Bernays, a 20th century pioneer in the field, bemoaned this development. It seems little has changed. If anything, the market is even more crowded with self-proclaimed "public relations experts."

So, as a public relations professional, what can you do? How to you differentiate yourself from the legion of individuals who claim to practice public relations?

You get educated. You seek training and professional development opportunities. You work to deepen your understanding of the rich tapestry that is public relations. Then, you work diligently to raise the bar for all practitioners of our craft.

That’s why many public relations professionals join the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). And, to go one step further, that’s why an increasing number of its members (as well individuals in other related organizations) seek the APR designation.

APR stands for Accredited in Public Relations. It communicates that you’ve taken a significant step forward in your career. If you have at least five years of experience in the field, you’re eligible to apply. Note that you need to earn your APR. It’s a process. You study for a period of months (depending on your experience), then take a written exam and deliver a panel presentation. In doing so, you must master public relations’ essential knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Want to learn more? Then join me on Saturday, February 2, 2019 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. I’ll facilitate a special PRSA San Francisco Bay Area chapter program dedicated to the APR. You’ll hear from chapter members who recently earned their APRs. I’ll also review the application form; how to study for the written examination and prepare for the panel presentation; and point you toward other resources to help you navigate the road leading to the APR.

Register here to attend the February 2, 2019 workshop. I look forward to seeing you then. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Six Topics to Consider To Help You to Plan Your Persuasive Presentation

You’ve been asked to speak to a group of people. You’ll propose a course of action and attempt to convince, or persuade, them to adopt it. You’ll argue that your recommendation represents an improvement over current practice.

Where do you start? In other words, before you sit down to put together your presentation, what do you need to know? 

I’ve found six topics useful for creating an effective persuasive presentation. Consider them before you sit down to outline your talk, develop your PowerPoint slides, etc., by reflecting on related questions, as follows: 

  1. Background: What problem you are attempting to address? Why are you doing so now? 
  2. The issue: What change are you proposing? Provide as much detail as possible on what’s involved. What arguments will you make to support your proposal? What evidence will you use to support each argument? 
  3. Role of the presenter: What qualifies you to deliver the talk on this topic? What is your relationship to the members of the audience (see next topic)? 
  4. Description of the audience: Who will be in your audience? What are their roles? What is their connection to the topic of your talk? Are they likely to be for, neutral towards, or against your proposal?
  5. Arguments in support of your proposal: Why should audience members support your proposal? Identify as many reasons as possible. 
  6. Potential objections to your proposal: Why might audience members oppose your proposal? What arguments would they make? What evidence can you present to counter their objections? 

Respond carefully to each of these prompts. You’ll then be well on your way to delivering a successful persuasive speech. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy New Year! Now, Get to Work to Map Out Your Career with eParachute

I've spent a lot of time over the last few months responding to posts in Reddit's "Career Guidance" forum. In general, these posts focus on three topics:

  • I studied subject "A" in school, and I don't know what job to look for
  • I'm in a job I don't like and don't know what to do next
  • I'm thinking of going back to school to help me find a new career

People can get stuck in these phases, hence the plea for guidance by posting on Reddit. But in so doing they're looking for a quick fix on a fundamental, even existential challenge: what shall I do with my life?

It's a difficult question to answer, and your response changes over time. So what can you do?

You need to sit down and do the work to discover your career strengths, explore your career options, and chart a path through the world of work. Where? eParachute, a self-inventory method inspired by What Color is Your Parachute?, one of the best selling career books ever. 

I've worked through the process outlined on eParachute's site. The effort proved indispensable for helping me find my current position, decide to return to school to earn a doctorate, and put together a long-term career plan. Read more about my effort here

I'm so enthusiastic about the eParachute process that I've become an affiliate. That means that when you sign up for the program, I receive a referral fee. 

I've worked in career services for two MBA programs, which exposed me to a variety of processes for clarifying professional interests and translating them into job search strategies. I consider eParachute to be among the most effective. So, if you're beginning the new year with the challenge of "what to do next," I urge you to give eParachute a tryYou won't regret it.