Teacher’s Pet: Portfolios

With the warm weather, and exams but a fleeting memory, many
students find themselves hitting the office instead of the beach, looking for
internship opportunities. Today’s
Teacher’s Pet post is all about how to put together the best portfolio, and
what the heck to do with it once you’ve walked through the door. 

As a general rule of thumb, a portfolio should include a
combination of writing samples, your resume and a selection of references. Choose your
best, most powerful and results-driven pieces; no need to include everything
you’ve ever penned.

If you haven’t sunk your teeth into published work
yet, feel free to use class assignments and course work, but remember to nix
your essays. Portfolio pieces should be shorter in length, and demonstrate
industry-quality writing similar to what you would do on the job. From press
releases to blog posts, include a sampling of your best work that touts your
versatility. The more variety you show, the better we (or the hiring office)
can assess your skills and abilities, hopefully landing you that coveted
internship or first job.


Other good rule of thumb: if it doesn’t fit through the door, your portfolio is too big. 


Is your best work not on paper? Did you plan an event? Write
up a case study, including the event goals, the process you underwent and all
the (great) results.

As always, follow the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid,
meaning no coloured paper or fancy fonts, especially the dreaded Comic Sans.
While pink, scented paper may have worked for Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods, we
suggest you stick to the plain Jane-style instead. You want us to take you seriously, right?

We’d hire her, just NO pink press releases.

When toting your newly prepped portfolio to an interview,
mention you have brought it along at the beginning of the interview. If you are
asked for examples of when you overcame a challenge, or led a team, don’t be
afraid to refer to specific content in your portfolio that specifically supports
your answer.

Don’t fret if there isn’t time to flip through your portfolio
during your interview. Be a savvy job hunter, and bring a second copy for them
to review once you’ve left. Hopefully you’ve also left a lasting impression!

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.





Rant: Effective Resume Writing

We get lots of resumes on the fourth floor, and while there are definitely some great candidates in the mix, we can’t help but question some of the submissions we receive, from PR newbies to seasoned pros alike. Some are riddled with errors, some spell Debra‘s name incorrectly, some don’t spell check – we could keep going. So to help out all the wannabe rockiteers out there, we’ve compiled our top tips (in random order) for writing a PR-focused resume.

1. Always spell check. There is really no reason not to. It’s free, it’s built right into your computer, and you’re applying for a communications position – we need to know you can communicate error-free.

2. Remember this episode of Seinfeld? Well, we’re with Mr. Lippman. Chill out on the exclamation points – they are rarely necessary in a resume/cover letter. When in doubt, leave them out.

3. Not sure who to address your resume to? Don’t write “to whom it may concern” or “hiring manager”. That’s taking the easy way out. Check the company’s website for clues. Still can’t find it? Call them! Don’t ask to speak with the president, but ask a receptionist or junior staffer who would be the best person to address your resume to. It shows initiative and attention to detail, and it’s super simple to do.

4. Most people embellish a bit on their resume, we know that. Just make sure you’re not flat out lying. For example, if you don’t know Canadian Press Style, don’t say that you do. Part of our hiring process includes a writing and editing test – we’ll catch ya if you’re lying, and then we’ll just be annoyed that you wasted our time. Most companies will expect you to be able to hit the ground running with the skills you list, and it will show pretty fast if it turns out you’re not as experienced as you implied.
5. Try to keep your resume to one page. Two is okay if your experience is super relevant. But don’t list the part-time burger-flipping job you held in Grade 11*. It’s perfectly okay to only list the jobs that will serve you in the position you’re going after – in fact, it’s preferred.

*Teacher’s Pet exception: If you’re a student applying for your first-ever internship, it’s okay to list a few part-time jobs you’ve held, especially if they demonstrate a skill relevant to PR (customer service, writing, sales, etc). It’s better than leaving your resume empty. Part-time jobs show responsibility and workplace experience, but they should only be seen on very junior resumes).

6. Read the job posting from top to bottom and follow the directions. If it says to submit your resume only (and no cover letter), then do so. If it asks you to quote a competition number, make sure you include it. PR is all about attention to detail!
7. This should go without saying as it applies to all industries, but tailor your resume to the position you’re applying for. Don’t send generic carbon copies to every company you apply to. Your resume will be stronger if it reflects what the hiring company is seeking.

8. For cover letters, be creative and let your personality shine through in your writing, but keep it professional. It will help you stand out from the pack.

9. This is Canada. Make sure all your words are spelled the Canadian way: flavour, honour, centre, etc. You get the idea. We hate to see “color.” It’s COLOUR, people!

10. Follow up. Nearly all of us at rock-it landed our first interviews thanks to good follow-up. Many bosses get hundreds of emails a day, so if you’re not persistent, chances are you’ll fall through the cracks. Use good sense though – don’t follow up with Robin Kay during LG Fashion Week, don’t follow up with Cameron Bailey during TIFF, and don’t follow up with Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski during either of those events. 😉


Sending us a resume? Please, please consult our checklist first!
Do you have more resume tips? Tweet us @rockitpromo or comment below!

Teacher’s Pet: Advice for PR students, recent grads and enthusiasts

September has arrived and with it, brought a whole new crop of students pursuing a career in PR. To give you an edge, we’ve decided to share some of the top tips that we’ve learned from our time in the biz.


You know that a publicist needs stellar writing skills and an interest in media but do you really know what it’s like to work in a busy PR office? If not, it’s ok. You won’t have an accurate picture of the PR world until you’re actually in it. However, the ladies on the fourth floor are some of the best people to give you a realistic introduction to a world that can be crazy and busy, yet fun and fulfilling.

Image source.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Questions are not just a great way to learn – getting answers guarantees that you and your team are on the same page. Take advantage of their collective experience and ask as many questions as possible. You may feel like you’re being annoying but it’s better to ask and avoid a possible catastrophe. 

Excel, Paint/Photoshop and Outlook
If you have ever fibbed on a resume and said you’re a pro at using these programs, you are in for a rude awakening when you start working in the PR biz. A seasoned publicist knows these programs inside-out so start downloading those tutorials.

Twitter
To quote Barry Waite, coordinator of the corporate communications and PR program at Centennial College, “If you don’t have Twitter, you won’t find a job in PR.” ‘Nuff said. Social media has become an essential tool for PR, and Twitter is at the top of the game right now. Luckily, it’s fun and you will quickly understand that it’s an important information source and not just people posting updates about what they ate for breakfast. 


If you’re just starting out, read our Twitter tutorial here.

Start media monitoring
Chose a company you admire and read the dailies every day to find coverage of the company. Media monitoring is something you will do a lot when you’re starting out, so learn how to set up Google alerts and practice your scanning skills. Also, it’s the best way to get to know a writer, a TV show or radio program which is one of the most important aspects of working in PR.

We have just scratched the surface and have tons more advice to give so send us your questions @rockitpromo (or comment below) and we’ll give you the low down. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Teacher’s Pet: Mistakes during internships?

Question six in our Teacher’s Pet series comes from Laura Chang, a student at Humber College’s PR program. We chat internships and humble pie. 

Her Question: We’ll be starting internships soon and I had a question: What should I do if I make a mistake during my internship?
Our Answer: Start by taking a deep breath and remember that mistakes are part of the learning process, and every intern (and full-time employee, for that matter) makes a few.
We haven’t met an intern who has yet to make an error, but you know what? That’s completely okay. We don’t expect interns to know everything. That’s why they’re here – to learn! So, if you make a mistake, don’t panic. It will be fine.
While your first reaction may be to cover it up so you don’t get in trouble with the boss, we’d actually rather you to step forward and let us know what happened. That way, we can correct it as soon as possible. Trust us. It’s much better to admit you screwed up and ask for help than to ignore it. By not reacting right away, you actually risk worsening the situation, depending on what it is.
If it was a small error, simply apologize and offer to help fix it. Do your best not to let it happen again (it’s a bit of a pet peeve to have to correct someone on the same error more than twice) and try to observe the steps taken to solve the problem. That way, you really understand the impact your mistake had and are more likely to not repeat it in the future. Win-win! 
For more complicated errors, sometimes your senior team may need to move quickly, and they may not have time to explain all the steps they’re taking to improve the situation. If there is something you don’t understand, make a note of it so you can discuss it with your manager later. After the dust has settled, ask your higher-ups if they can go over the steps they took to recover the error, and consider it a learning experience. And again, remember to apologize – humble pie may not be delicious, but it should be part of the menu sometimes.
Being upfront about a mistake shows maturity and honesty, two qualities any potential employer loves to see. Everyone makes mistakes and a good employer will help you learn from it, rather than chastising you or making you feel badly. 
Trying to solve the issue or at least coming up with some suggestions to correct your mistake shows you’re taking your job seriously and are willing to work to learn. We love that.
Got a burning PR question that you want us to answer? Email amalia.intern@rockitpromo.com. We’ll feature you on a future Teacher’s Pet.

Teacher’s Pet: Interning

Megan Kaczor is a Centennial College Corporate Communications and Public Relations graduate student preparing to start interning. 


Her question: Could you tell me more about the kind of work students will do during their internship at an agency? Will there be many opportunities for hands-on work, such as writing and planning, or will we be sticking to the basics at first?

Our answer: You can no longer be Saved by the Bell. It’s time to get out of the classroom and head to the office. You are set to report for intern duty Monday morning, but you aren’t too sure what to expect. Take a seat fellow intern, and keep reading.  An internship at a PR agency involves the basics, and then some. 

From time to time, you may be asked to make a coffee run before a big meeting or run an errand, but you may also be asked to write drafts of press releases, research and update media lists, monitor client media coverage, write blog posts or tweets, assist with press days and much more.

As an intern working events, you will gain experience working the door, organizing media check-ins and making valuable industry connections.

Meeting with clients is an important part of a publicist’s job. In such meetings, proposals, events, PR initiatives and results are discussed. Interns invited to sit on meetings should listen closely, and take note of client-relationship etiquette. If you aren’t invited, be sure to ask if you can sit in on meetings. PR is fast and the folks around you need to know what you’re interested in doing.

While the overall intern experience may be a ton of work, interns often benefit from a few cool perks. Here On The Fourth Floor, our interns have gone on photo shoots, modeled for television appearances, attended fashion and entertainment industry events, receive free tickets to films and concerts, and much more. 

Enjoy your internship and remember that every position, from intern to big boss, is important. Do your job with pride and remember that everybody above you has been there at one time, too.

Teacher’s Pet: Big agency vs. boutique firm

Today’s Teacher’s Pet post is about the differences between interning at small firms and large agencies. It’s the time of year when many PR students start to look for internship opportunities, so this post should answer lots of questions for you. 

Natalie Schoffer is currently enrolled as a student in Humber College’s Postgraduate Certificate program. 

I am looking into internships and jobs right now and I am wondering what the difference is between working at a large agency and a small firm?
 
Michelle‘s answer: Both small and large PR firms offer interns a lot of solid PR work experience. It’s our opinion that the top two areas of distinction fall under day-to-day tasks and clientele, outlined below.
The Tasks
Small (boutique) firms: These interns get a lot of hands-on experience, including working events and receiving RSVPs, developing first drafts of media materials, building media lists, helping with media monitoring and tracking coverage, assisting with a company’s social media initiatives, and more. Interns have the opportunity to assist everyone from the president to junior staff, and the intimate atmosphere provides invaluable access to senior staff.

Large agency: The atmosphere can feel more corporate than a boutique, and these agencies employ many staff, so there are a lot of smart, savvy people to learn from. Large agency interns are part of an account team (with up to five staff members) and provide support on foundational tasks like media monitoring, managing press reports, building media lists and more. Many of the large firms have offices all over the world, opening the door to work-related travel, or relocation, which can be a fun perk (if you’re hired on after your internship).
The Clients
The size of company you choose also depends on what you are passionate about.
Small firms: Boutique agencies like rock-it promotions, Brill Communications and Pennant Media Group offer the chance to work with a range of clients, from local start-ups to national businesses to global enterprises. Boutique firms often work within multiple categories like fashion, entertainment, fitness, lifestyle, beauty, restaurants, etc. since there aren’t separate departments.  Budgets can be smaller than with big agencies, so creative outreach is appreciated.

Large agency: Large firms like Edelman, Strategic Objectives, Hill and Knowlton or National Public Relations are often separated into specific departments dedicated to client areas like consumer, health, technology and corporate communications, so you can benefit from tailored industry experience, which is amazing if you have a passion for a specific genre. Large corporate clients often have more regulations and specific branding guidelines, so getting a super creative idea off the ground isn’t always easy, but the larger budgets mean there are endless possibilities.

The Conclusion
An internship, wherever you do it, is really what you make of it. Make sure you ask senior staff about how you can help on an account, complete the tasks you are assigned impeccably, be cheery and personable (without being irritating), be eager to learn and go above and beyond. This will help land you a job, or at least a wonderful reference letter. Should you intern in an environment that just isn’t right for you, you can (and should!) easily transition between small firms and large agencies.