Teacher’s Pet: Education vs. Experience

Lorena Laurencelle is currently a Public Relations student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. 

Her Question: What level of education is necessary to succeed in the public relations field? Is education more important, or is experience more valued?
Our Answer: Our team comes from a variety 
of backgrounds, experience and education. We look at both sides of this question by asking some with PR education backgrounds (Amalia and Meg) and some with PR experience (Natalie, Debra and Abby) for their advice.
Debra – President
I didn’t go to school for public relations. I have a degree in creative writing and started working when I was 14 years old and moved out when I was 18. I learned from experience. I took every lesson and like to think I got a bit smarter with each mistake I made. I loved to write, always had an easy time meeting new people and I spent years doing shitty telemarketing jobs where I honed my phone skills. Get good at what you love to do and you can succeed without getting a degree. Spend time in a really good internship or two and that’s going to do you a world of good in the PR world.

Natalie  – Publicist

I attended the University of Western Ontario, majoring in Media, Information and Technoculture and minoring in Comparative Literature and Civilization. While at Western, I also completed a Certificate in Writing. While I think that post-secondary education can be helpful in developing your writing and critical thinking skills, I don’t think that a B.A. is necessary for a career in public relations. At university, I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses and began to think that I wanted to work in PR. It wasn’t until after graduating and completing two internships that I knew that PR was for me.
Ultimately, my advice for anyone looking to get into PR is to volunteer/intern as much as you can. While being a good writer is a necessary skill for a good publicist, first-hand experiences are what make a great publicist. So much of what we do at rock-it involves events and the type of on-the-ground experience you get in a (good) internship is what I believe you need. Learn how to run a door, make a guest list, create a clippings package, etc. – these are the tasks that seem menial, but which are SO important to a functioning PR team. You can read about it in school, but nothing can ever beat real life experience.
Abby – Publicist
Ultimately, a bachelor’s degree of some sort is required to succeed; you need basic levels of writing, comprehension and time management to make it in any career. For PR, it boils down to a combo of natural skills and learned skills. For some types of PR, these skills are best learned in school. For others, they’re best learned in the trenches. If you are willing to work hard, ask smart questions, have great people skills and are a strong writer, you don’t necessarily need a PR-specific education. There are lots of related degrees that will help you out – English, communications, journalism, film, a technology background or even science can be relevant. It depends on what area of PR you’d like to work in. 
Communication skills are a must, so if they come naturally to you, then you’re likely able to make it without a post-secondary PR degree. If you’re not the strongest writer, take a few courses to brush up, or start a blog to develop your style. 
PR education never hurts, but landing a great internship, meeting people in the industry and participating in social media are the alternate route to making it in public relations.
Amalia – Assistant to the President
Having a bachelors degree and a certificate in PR (or something related) is very important. I think that having a PR-geared post-secondary diploma is something that will benefit you incredibly. The things that I learned on the first day of school (Algonquin College) are still getting me through the work day…so pay attention and don’t skip class!
Interning is something EVERYONE should do. I did three internships one summer, and it really paid off. Although the money isn’t great, you need to see it as a learning experience and an investment in your own future. They are paying YOU to learn.
Keeping in touch with former bosses and colleagues is also something everyone should do, especially in our field. Staying on someone’s radar is just as important as your experience, education and skill set combined.
Meg – Junior Publicist
After getting a B.Sc. and working in unrelated jobs for a couple of years, I went back to school for a post-grad diploma in PR. I definitely value that education – it taught me PR writing styles and other basics, and gave me an idea of what to expect in this business. I think a PR-specific education is a strong start to a career in this industry. Writing, editing and style are the base of everything we do, and a PR-specific education will prep you with that knowledge.
That being said, all the education in the world won’t allow you to succeed without real-life experience. Interning is hands down the best way to really learn the biz. I would be nowhere without what I gleaned from my time interning. An education is the foundation for the knowledge you gain from job experience. I continue to learn every day by watching the awesome and experienced pros I work with and listening to their advice and know-how.
In Conclusion: There’s no one right answer as everyone comes into this industry with different skills, education and experience to draw on. However, we all agree on the strength and importance of internships and that some form of education is necessary, even just to hone your writing skills.
Have a PR question you want answered? Send it to meg@rockitpromo.com. We’ll choose the best and answer it on our blog.





Media, Darling: Linda Barnard

Linda Barnard has worked as a cocktail waitress, bartender and camp counsellor (not in that order) but she liked journalism best. The London, Ont. native started her career at The Campbellford Herald and Cobourg Star, then spent 18 years at the Toronto Sun, covering beats from city hall to medicine to being the paper’s humour columnist. She joined the Toronto Star in 2002 and is the Star‘s movie writer, where she does interviews and reviews for Canada’s largest newspaper and the website thestar.com. She lives in Cabbagetown with her boyfriend and their cat, Lance.


Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
I wanted to be a translator at the United Nations when I was a kid, then decided to go to law school, but I dropped out of Western in second year of my undergrad because I fell for a bass player and he was a lot more fun than reading Chaucer. My childhood pal Carol Off (now co-host at CBC’s As It Happens) came up with the idea over a bottle of wine: “You love to write, you love news and you’re nosey. Why not journalism school?” I started at Ryerson that fall and truly found my niche. I was happy from the first day and have never regretted it. Thanks, Carol.


Where would you like to be five years from now?
Still working in daily newspapers. I believe print will survive and thrive; we just need to find new and continuously evolving ways to engage readers with electronic publishing and citizen journalism as well. I may change beats, but love journalism too much to do anything else.


Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Work hard, ask questions and trust your instincts, but don’t think you know everything. Too many newcomers confuse confidence with arrogance.


What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
For websites: Nikki Finke’s Deadline: Hollywood, Twichfilm, RopeofSilicone, Torontoist, Hollywood Reporter and Variety, plus the L.A. Times and all its film and entertainment blogs, The New York Times (especially Sunday) and its film and entertainment blogs, The Globe and Mail, The Grid, NOW and occasionally The National Post, The (London) Guardian, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair.  I am a Coronation Street addict and am counting the days until Mad Men returns.


Best interview you’ve ever had?
It’s impossible to pick the best because they’re all good in their own way. I did really dig Helen Mirren, though. She was amazing. 

Worst?
Ditto the worst – I’ve had some people be downright mean to me, but it often turns out they were having a lousy day. TIFF tends to drain you of your will to live, so when Philip Seymour Hoffman made me feel like a moron, it wasn’t really his fault.


Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Shut up and pay attention.


What rule(s) do you live your life by?
An oldie but a goodie – the do unto others one. Works every time. And I like to think it keeps my karma insurance balance in the black. The thing is it only takes one bitchy comment or rude remark to stain the reputation you’ve worked so hard to build. Why risk it?


What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Don’t carpet bomb. If we say “no,” there’s a good reason. And please don’t call the person I work next to in order to pitch the same thing. That’s so lame.


Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
The film publicists in Toronto are all very good and we’re very lucky in this town to have such a cadre of clever people. They’re pros. They work hard, they know the market and tend to play fair while working with a very competitive media. They return calls and emails right away and they do their best to deliver. They occasionally need reminding that I’m working for the readers, not the studios, but I get that’s because of the external pressures they face.


I hate?
Liars.


I love?
Kittens and dry martinis, straight up with olives.


Reading?
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout . A terrific book of short stories. I also am thumbing through a book on western movie shoot locations in the American southwest –  especially Monument Valley because we were just there. Standing on John Ford Point was a real life highlight.


Best place on earth?
Muri Beach, Rarotonga, Cook Islands, or anyplace my partner Hans happens to be.


Dinner guest?
Family and friends who make me laugh, which is all of them.


Hero?
Pierre Trudeau.


Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?
I spend a bit too much time with those Angry Birds.


Pool or ocean?
Ocean.


Voicemail or email?
Email.

First jobs: Michelle the perfume spritzer

Ah, first jobs. You might have babysat three screaming children, steamed designer clothing or blended McFlurries for $6 an hour. First jobs are far from glamourous for most people, but they offer more money than the tooth fairy ever gave you (usually). They also make up who we are today and are part of our journey to where we are now.

This time, Michelle shares about her first gig as a professional perfume spritzer, and all the amazing perks that came with the job.

After the typical baby-sitting gigs when I was 12 and 13 years old, my aunt got me THE BEST first real job – being a fragrance sales associate for L’Oréal! I had this job from ages 16 to 18, and worked anywhere from 10 to 30 hours a week at the counter at The Bay in the lovely Yorkdale Mall.  I represented and sold Ralph Lauren, Armani, Lanvin and Cacharel perfumes and colognes.

My favourite part of selling fragrance was that I always went home smelling wonderful. Actually, it was probably a bit overwhelming, smelling like a mix of 10 different scents, but I thought it was amazing. I am not sure everyone felt that way.

Another part of that job I loved was getting to know the other sales associates in the beauty department – everyone was so friendly, girly and beautiful. It really was its own little community. I had so much fun there.

Part of this job also involved working a ton of in-store promotional events (which I obviously adored doing). One event that stands out for me was for Ralph by Ralph Lauren. I had to get on stage and do a choreographed dance to the Britney Spears rendition of I Love Rock’n’Roll (about a million times in a row) and speak on a microphone to get people to come up for a free sample of the new perfume. Oh, and I distinctly remember wearing a fake clip-on pony tail. (Eeekkk!)


This was a dream job for me in high school. I got paid $16 an hour to dress up nicely, work fun events, talk to tons of interesting people, sell beautiful fragrances and hang out in a mall.
As with any job, there were some negatives. A big drawback was standing all day long. My feet would ache by the end of a six-hour shift. And of course, the chaos of the holiday season – finding parking in December at Yorkdale was an absolute nightmare. I was often late because I was circling the parking lot, looking for a spot.
To this day, I still love walking through a fragrance department and experiencing all the glorious scents. Honestly, I don’t think people wear enough fragrance. Or maybe my nose has just been desensitized.
P.S. The best perk was selling men’s cologne. A perfect excuse to talk to all the cute guys that walked by.
P.P.S. I never spritzed anyone who didn’t want it. 🙂  (Remember this episode of Friends?)

Meet Our Team: Lara

Lara is the newest addition to the rock-it team, and we couldn’t be happier to have found her. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario, Lara worked in television production and fashion styling before pursuing a career in publicity. After a short time at The Mint Agency, Lara joined the rock-it team, bringing her happy-go-lucky attitude with her.
Lara is obsessed with cereal for lunch (with almond milk), and is on a never-ending search for the perfect cheek stain to get that all-over glow (which we think she already has).

Twitter: @laratobinstyle

How long have you been part of the team?
Two months.
Ideal vacation spot?
Travelling is a huge part of my life, so narrowing it down is impossible. But give me anywhere with mountains and water and I’m in heaven.
What do you love most about living in Toronto?
Whenever there are city events, like a parade or outdoor concert, I have the same thought every time, without fail: “Whoa… Toronto is way bigger than I realize.” I feel T.O. pride when I see huge numbers of people coming out to participate, giving our large city a smaller community feel.
Best gift you’ve ever received?
A pinky ring from my mom (ironically, for her 50th birthday). My mother, my sister and I each have one; it represents our own sorority. 
Best part about being a publicist?
Letting your creative juices flow. I’m a people person, and love to meet and talk to new people. I also love to write, research and learn; all of which PR holds the key to. 

A little more from the fourth floor:
Website: http://www.theselby.com/
Designer: Alberta Ferretti and Gwen Stefani (L.A.M.B)
Store: Holt Renfrew Last Call
Book: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I can’t find my copy though, that’s gotta be bad karma.
Snack: Nachos
Season: Summer
Sexy: Summer
Inspiration: Family. Everyone at rock-it. Spiritual thinkers and optimistic folks.
Drink: Beer, especially Magic Hat, which is only available in the U.S.
Motto in two words: One Love

Meet Our Team: Debra

Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski is our fearless leader, founder and president of rock-it promotions, inc. and Tastemakers. She has appeared as a PR expert on MuchMore Music, eTalk, ET Canada and Global News, and has been interviewed by The Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, Toronto Life and many more.

Goldblatt-Sadowski attended Concordia University and graduated with a degree in Creative Writing. She is a published poet, a former performance artist and a produced playwright. She has no formal education in public relations. She founded rock-it promotions at the start of the new millennium in January 2000.
 
She’s known for her friendly and outgoing approach to publicity, stellar networking skills and having the ear of most media members in the city. She’ll rarely turn down an invite to a good party and has been known to throw a few fun shindigs herself.

In addition to being a great head honcho and PR maven, she is a wonderful mom to two-year-old Mila Raven, and happily married to film and television director Matt Austin-Sadowski

Twitter: @debgee


What song gets you out on the dance floor?
Anything from The Stones to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros to Gaga. Doesn’t take much to get me dancing.

What can’t you leave the house without?
My BlackBerry during the week. My daughter on the weekends.

Best gift you’ve ever received?
Advice from my smart parents.   
My husband.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Us Weekly. Dexter. Gossip Girl. Vodka martinis with three olives. Dark chocolate. Dutch Dreams. And my toes are always painted something pretty. Always. 

What do you love most about living in Toronto?
My family and friends are all here. I love that I can always find something to do. It’s a little bit rock’n’roll, a little bit of country. I also really like that it’s a big city, small town. I am six degrees from almost anybody.

Best part about being a publicist?
I love helping businesses reach new levels of success through media exposure. I love crafting story ideas for journalists. I love to write. I love to talk.

A little more from the fourth floor:
Website: Apartmenttherapy.com (love the house tours).
Designer: Marc Jacobs.
Store: Holt Renfrew.
Book: Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller; Notes of a Dirty Old Man, Bukowski; and anything by Pablo Neruda and ee cummings.
Snack: Smartfood Popcorn.
Season: Summer.
Sexy: Confidence.
Inspiration: The memory of my mother’s hugs; the sound of my daughter’s laugh.
Drink: Aforementioned vodka martini with three olives, s.v.p.
Motto in two words: Rock it.

Teacher’s Pet: On writing and editing

The second question in our new Teacher’s Pet series focuses on the writing and editing process.

I’ve always wondered how much guidance junior staff receive during their first few months of employment/internships. 

What is the typical editing process for a junior PR person before one of his/her press releases or any other written materials are ready to be circulated to press – do senior staff typically look over the work of junior staff and provide them with constructive feedback and help them revise the work, or is it expected that their written material is already perfect?

Shane McKenna (@Shane_McKenna) is currently a Public Relations student at Durham College. We’ve asked a junior and senior staff member to help answer his question, to give two different perspectives.

Abby – Publicity Co-ordinator
At rock-it, we have a great process in place for editing work, and everyone pitches in with editing and writing help (whether junior or senior). I’ve found that my writing has gotten stronger, because my team is great at giving constructive feedback. 
Typically, I write a release, submit it to someone for an edit, and they will track their changes when they send it back to me. This helps me see where improvements were made and understand why something was re-worded. Then, it goes for a final edit with either Lisa (Publicity Manager), or Debra (President), then to the client for approval, and finally, to the media. Lots of steps along the way help catch any mistakes.
When I started, I did receive guidance from the team. However, I think it’s important that you can get started without a lot of guidance. It can be a little overwhelming, but you have to jump in and just give it a shot – whether or not someone is showing you every step along the way. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; it’s how you learn. If you have a good team, they’ll help you learn from your mistakes, rather than criticizing you.  
Lisa – Publicity Manager
First, some background! I studied Journalism – Print and Broadcast at Durham College, where I learned really valuable writing skills. Then, I was hired by the campus Communications and Marketing Department, where my main role was writing and editing – and knowledge of CP Style was a must.
Being a strong writer was definitely an asset when I made the move to rock-it – I was able to teach other team members some easy ways to improve their writing. Now, I hold the unofficial role of copy editor at rock-it, though the process from taking a first draft to a final copy distributed to media is a team effort.
Most agencies recognize that junior staff are still learning the ropes, with everything from pitching to building lists to writing promotional materials. While it’s not expected that junior writing will be perfect, there are a few steps you can take to a) show your employer you value strong writing, b) begin to recognize errors and look up how to correct them, and c) save the editor time. It’s okay to make mistakes here and there – it’s part of the learning process! But there are five tips to make sure you’re submitting your best work possible.

1. Consult the CP Style and CP Caps and Spelling books. If you truly can’t locate a rule within these resources, flag it for your editor – that way, they know you made the effort to find the answer, and they’ll see that you know when to check reference guides.

2. Make a list of information to include. Writing a press release? Make sure you include the 5 Ws! It’s surprising how often crucial information is left out or forgotten.

3. If your senior staffer doesn’t go over their changes with you, ask them to sit down with you and explain. Send a friendly email to book a mutually convenient time for the two of you to discuss the changes that were made.

4. Take notes to ensure you are not making the same error every time you submit something for editing. After two or three corrections, it’s expected that you will remember the rule going forward.

5. The most important piece of advice is to take constructive criticism seriously, but not personally. Let’s face it – working in the communications industry, there is a lot of writing. Rather than dread or avoid it, embrace it. You senior staffers will notice when you put extra effort into improving your skills, which will only work to your benefit. 

Oh, and in the words of a former professor, “Spell check is free on your computer. Use it!”

Good luck!

Meet Our Team: Abby

Abby started her career in marketing at a small property services business in Muskoka for a year and moved on shortly after to the GoodLife Fitness corporate marketing department for just under two years.  

While the marketing world was fun, she felt something was missing. After pursuing a meeting at rock-it (ed note: it took many emails and superb follow up!), she took a leap of faith and accepted an offer for an intensive four-month internship to learn PR. In turn, Abby was offered a full time job with rock-it and has been smiling ever since (ed note: and so have we). 

Abby spent a year in Taiwan teaching English to kids and has travelled to Japan, France, Spain, Thailand and more. She loves lakes, the beach, fashion, books, good music and dinner parties with wine and friends. She is a pro at Ultimate Frisbee and plays once a week. Abby studied English & Criminology at the University of Toronto.

Twitter: @bigail

How long have you been part of the team?
Six months.
Ideal vacation spot?
The Amalfi Coast in Italy. I want to eat pasta and drink wine for, like, days. 
What can’t you leave the house without?
Brushing my teeth.
Best gift you’ve ever received?
My sparkly, gorgeous engagement ring. The fiancé that came with it is pretty good, too. 
How do you like to relax?
Reading a great book. I love to cook. And watch TV on Slice. Drinks and dinner with friends. 
Best part about being a publicist?
The days with like-minded people who are interested in the same things that I am. Always knowing what’s going on in my city. I love events and meeting creative, successful people. Also, spending my days writing. 
A little more from the fourth floor: 
Website www.gofugyourself.com HILARIOUS.
Designer – Tom Ford.
Store – Girl Friday.
Book – That’s like asking me to choose a favourite child.
Snack – Salt and vinegar chips.
Season – 100000% summer.
Sexy – Confidence.
Inspiration – My fiancé.
Drink –  The gin and tonic from the Toronto Temperance Society.
Motto in two words – Think fantastic.