“I Haven’t Got Time” or How to Doom a PR Career

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I should warn readers in advance that this column is going to be a bit of a rant because I am very frustrated by many of my peers. If you ask people why they join a communications/PR association, many of the top answers include networking (usually number 1), career development and following best practice. Yet the majority of people do not attend events, never proactively contact another member and don’t even tap into the online resources. When asked why, the response is almost universally: “I haven’t got time.”

We all are faced with a multiplicity of demands on our time, and it is a fact that the number of hours in a day is limited. But have you ever noticed how the top professionals whom you really admire seem to get an impossible amount done? If you understand the importance of tapping into the power of your association, it is amazing what you can find time for. The reason is simple, rather than being an add-on that will take additional time, being an engaged member makes you better at your job and improves your career prospects, which are two really motivating reasons to find time. In fact, they may save you a lot of time.

So let’s look at a couple of activities and the related benefits.

Networking

Somewhere along the line the misconception grew that having a fat “little black book” of contacts was the sign of a great networker.  Poppycock! Let me quote two communicators I admire a lot. In a controversial but brilliant presentation explaining why France has been losing influence in European decision-making,  Philippe Maze-Sencier, currently managing director of APCO Worldwide’s Paris office, urged trade association execs from France to “soigner ses relations (et non pas ses contacts)” [develop relationships, not contact lists]. Barb Gibson, ABC, Founder and President of SpokesComm and the current international Chair of IABC, advises, “Work for your network…The most powerful network is the one that is made up of people who owe you favours.” Or in more Biblical terms: so ye sow, so shall ye reap. There are few things I find more fatiguing than people whose idea of networking is only asking for help, jobs etc. Be a resource. Demonstrate your value. Show, don’t tell. Apply the same professionals standards to the PR of your personal brand as you would at work.

Professional development and involvement

Shortly after I joined IABC (many years ago), I attended a lunch hosted by my chapter board (at that time IABC Belgium) for new members. The board member next to me (Peter Whippy of EuroChlor) asked me what I thought of IABC so far. “To be honest,” I replied, “I find it awfully focused on corporations.” I then explained that as a young association communicator (and one who did not do a degree in communications), I was finding it hard to translate that material into something I could use. Not even three hours later, Peter senting an e-mail that began something like “Kristen, I’d like to invite you to help us set up a new special interest group for communicators working for confederations, associations and federations…” Lesson 1 regarding associations: they are what the members make them. I accepted Peter’s challenge and have never stopped being an association champion since.

With regard to blogs, I first started looking at them because of the raging debates between the “e-vangelists” and the less experimental members. While I didn’t dismiss blogs out of hand, I wasn’t very convinced by their ROI. But I started to play with them so that I could at least understand how the technology works and what it can (and can’t offer). Today I can provide a more nuanced perspective between Blogs the Hype and Blogs the Technology. I’m a big fan of the technology because I’ve seen how often it is problematic for organizations to keep websites current. Blog technology is great because you don’t need special software, you can pretty much use one if you can use a word processor, and a team of people can contribute, thus overcoming the gatekeeper/bottleneck issue. For a blog like PR Conversations, the benefits I receive include participating in some thought-provoking debates that help me learn and grow, raising my professional profile and drawing attention to events, organizations and information that I am passionate about.  There’s some clear ROI there. Blogs can be easy to use bulletin boards too. Since IABC opened its eXchange platform to members, IABC France has created a dedicated job page allowing its members to post job ads and receive them in real time — no delays, no bottlenecks… And then my personal blog allows me to share little vignettes of my life with family and friends scattered all over the globe. My blog is even linked to my brother’s (in Botswana) to make the family’s attempts to keep up with us that much easier. If I hadn’t taken the time to start playing with the format, I never would have seen its potential.

Working for a trade association, I often have to be a mistress-of-all-trades, unlike communicators in big organizations who specialize. For me, it only makes sense when I take on a new task to start with research. Why re-invent the wheel and lose precious times on mistakes that diminish quality when you could leap-frog over those stages?  Imagine if your family doctor said, “I’ve decided to specialize in cardiovascular disease, but I don’t have time to read the medical literature before getting started.”  Eek!

Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining about the people who don’t take advantage of their professional association. Maybe I should thank them. In my experience, the people who are most engaged and most active are among the most impressive professionals I know (and also the most easily employable). So maybe I should just continue slogging away at learning something new every day with the goal of one day reaching the level of the people who inspire me. The people who “don’t have time” to invest in their personal and professional development will probably have an abundance when their careers stall because they haven’t taken the time to keep evolving. To use an Olympic metaphor, how can you expect to compete with athletes who are training regularly if you stopped exercising twenty years ago?

8 COMMENTS

  1. I love Phillipe’s comment about “developing relationships.” Somehow, in our digitized world, we’ve lost track of the effectiveness, the power, of relationship building. What better place to start (or continue) than in an association of peers with the same interests? I was recently asked to serve on IABC Grand Valley’s board as Director of commmunications and I’m absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to network and learn that this position will provide. I look at it like this: If you haven’t got time to invest in your future now, you have little time left in your future.

  2. Even though some of us have relatively little time left in our future (a little problem to remember our birthday, that is) we still have to invest in it. I couldn’t agree more with both of you.

    Blogging sure takes time. But once you find those sites that provide a personal ROI of time for whatever reason, it is plain sailing. In addition to the intellectual and professional stimulation I find on PRC, for instance, it provides me with a lot of information/ case studies/ global views on, and approaches to PR that I learn from myself and, in most cases, also pass on to my master’s students, academic colleagues in whichever university, practitioner friends, and into my curriculum. What a win-win situation!

  3. I am a PR student who has just been introduced to the world of blogging and web 2.0. As someone who is not a technologically savvy, I must admit that I am daunted at the prospect of using this environment in my impending professional career.

    However, I would like to point out the validity of both Benita’s and Brandon’s comments about establishing relationships. I wonder – with the advent of new technology, are we taking it for granted simple meets and greets with clients, and substituting the pleasantries of life by technology which is readily available? I believe that one should never allow technology to overshadow those and only use it as and when it is appropriate.

  4. Re>In my experience, the people who are most engaged and most active are among the most impressive professionals I know (and also the most easily employable). <

    Can anyone remember the names, job titles, and employers of senior, elected, association leaders who are responsible for major communications operations within major international organizations?

    IABC internationally is led today by a woman who seems to run a small PR shop. Prior to her, it was a middle manager in a state government responsible for pr about the government’s use of computers, I believe. Before that, the PR woman for apartment developers in one US state, albeit a big one.

    How fast time flies — before than a consultant in a two-man firm in a small (by any measure othr than geography) Canadian province.

    But maybe the strengths are at the chapter level, and in major business cities all over the world, senior execs of big PR operations within major organizations — people who have proven themselves to be good — are local, regional and national leaders.

    Maybe the best volunteers are those at the “adequate” level who have mid level jobs at mid level organizations, without too many demands on their time, able to devote hours to an association because they don’t have to fly somewhere for their real job, or even head home to coordinate the soccar game for the girl with the archery class for the boy, with the bridge club for the spouse, and the Highland DAncing lessons for the volunteer.

    I’m sympathetic to the premise of the original posting, and I note that any top association volunteer leader is limited by the skill set of the volunteers available to act at the second and third levels.

    I know when I was an association leader, I took my best director (Lesley Spencer, for those who might know her)and put her in charge of programs — that was what we needed handled in the best way.

    After that, just like a Canadian prime minister is stuck selecting cabinet members from (mostly) elected people, association leaders are stuck with the volunteers that have volunteered (or who can be recruited).

    Looking specifically at IABC… why in the world would a good quality professional communicator want to to spend a lot of time with a hypocritical organizattion like IABC.

    IABC leaders pretend IABC is an association of communicators, but you can’t find one decent example of the association communicating to the business world — the employers of its members — anywhere in the world. Did Todd make even one decent speeech to an external audience? What about the previous ten international chairs?

    Was there even one op-ed article of consequence over the past six years? What does the VP do, anyway?

    So, volunteers in IABC would need to have a desire to either play the game and take the expense paid trips, regardless of the value of the association, or they’d want to volunteer to lead, as a volunteer, a company in the seminar management, training, and educational supplies business, just like Ragan and Melcrum, except not owned by real investors but instead financed by members’ dues.

    And where’s the satisfaction in knowing that your efforts helped sell an additional 27 webinars?

    I do recollect that a PR association in England was doing a pretty good job b eing a PR association, rather than a training company — but I’ve given up paying attention to the training companies with the high priced staff, financed by volunteers.

    I’d rather write for free for Ragan.

    As for Xchange, or whatever it is called. IABC’s previous blogs used to get no respnses to most postings, a couple of responses to a few, and lots of responses to a very few and usually then only after I stireed the pot.

    Does xChange get 1 percent response, or even reading without response? At 15,000 members, that would be 150, with 99 percent not bothering.

    FOR THAT MATTER… what’s the readership here?

    BAK

  5. Dear Brian,

    I share many of your gripes about association leadership yet, as Kristin points out in this post and I can testify and confirm through 36 years of personal experience since I joined my first professional association, it is also true that professional associations, when they are led decently (I don’t mean superbly…just…decently: i.e. when a personal agenda is blended to bridge the expectancies of one’s stakeholders) the results can be excellent.

    And I do not buy the often used alibi that only mid level or younger and less experienced professionals have the time and the desire to lead these organizations. It should be quite the opposite.

    May I say that in my experience the more senior I developed, the more effort I have put into association work, simply because I realised that the more I matured the more I had a lot to learn and the certainties I once cherished have all but disappeared….

    Time is the only real resource which you cannot buy and if one makes good use of it, association volunteerism is, in my view, one of its most rewarding uses.

    As for the readership of this blog: the question should be (I have learned this going along…)put in this way: how much impact does this blog have and on whom?

    If you look at our official statistics (but maybe others will want to clarify further) we receive every day anywhere from 400 to 1000 single visits from something like 60 different countries, each accounting for approximately 1% of total visits. But this is only one side of the coin.
    Our posts are linked anywhere from 4 to 6 times a fortnight by other blogs who often enjoy a much higher viewership.
    What’s more our posts are sometimes simply cut and pasted by other blogs, mostly association ones and sometimes media outlets.

    Finally, I would add that, although sometime we do seem to be getting ‘lost in translation’ on issues which are stimulating only for a part of our readers, I presume that we have consolidated a fairly constant following amongst many of the leaders of professional, educator, scholar and student communities in various countries.
    Which is what we are about.

    If we suddenly doubled our unique daily visits I am not sure (but would like to have the problem to think about….)that it would necessarily be a good thing.

    I am however certain that others involved in this venture have other ideas and would certainly like to hear them…

  6. Toni, your numbers don’t take into account RSS subscribers, so I’d say daily reads are probably double what you quoted.

    And Brian, please note that this is a non-partisan blog of volunteer contributors. Most (if not all) of us have chosen to be affiliated with a public relations or communication association, but we write as much (or little) about that “association” as we choose. This blog is not affiliated with any one group. Ergo, I don’t think this is the best avenue for you to air your “concerns” about either the management or volunteer capabilities of one or more body. Particularly if you are not a current member of said organization.

    And I’ll end with a note to Kristen: besides being a big believer in contributing/giving back to one’s association, to benefit both the organization, other members and one’s self, what I find most gratifying is that so many of the relationships one builds up continue, even if you aren’t still affiliated with that particular group. That’s happened to me with two different associations, of which I’m no longer a member–I still count many of the individuals I met as some of my most valued (and favourite) colleagues and friends. And we still call upon one another for advice and assistance.

  7. In response to Kristen Sukalac’s original post, I couldn’t agree more. The title “I Haven’t Got Time” or How to Doom a PR Career, was what originally caught my eye and drew me to this discussion.

    I am currently completing my final year as a public relations student at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario. Throughout my education, the majority of which was in Pennsylvania, the idea of extracurricular activities has always been at the forefront of my mind. In high school, the teachers said “If you want to attend a good university then volunteer, volunteer, volunteer,” and that is exactly what I did. Not much changed when I reached Humber; however, the teachers were a little more specific with their advice, “Join IABC or CPRS.” Once again like a good student I did just that, becoming a member at both professional associations. That was the best advice I could have received.

    After securing my membership, I started to get involved. The Canadian Public Relations Society captured my attention because it was directed toward my future career. I started out as a class representative, then went on to join the Student Steering Committee and this year I am the Student Representative for the CPRS Toronto Board of Directors. Through my volunteering, I have developed my skills, built relationships, gained hands-on experience and even secured a few internships in the process. As I am close to starting my career I can say that nothing has been more valuable to me then my professional memberships.

    I cannot help but agree with the comment made by Kristen, “But have you ever noticed how the top professionals whom you really admire seem to get an impossible amount done?” I believe it truly says something about a professional’s character when they are at the top of their game and still take the time to work with the association that assisted them in getting where they are today.

    I have shared my thoughts about the value of student memberships with my classmates. Nine times out of ten I receive the same response as Kristen, “I haven’t got time.” I consider myself one busy student, taking on a full-time course load, two part time jobs, my CPRS duties, and various other organizations that I volunteer with. However, I also feel that as young PR professional we are doing ourselves a disservice by not taking advantage of the opportunities available to us. An association provides students with a plethora of resources to excel in their field, advance their knowledge, and meet top professionals. You can only reap the benefits of an association if you are willing to put forth the time and effort.

    I would like to end this by using a personally inspiring quote from Brandon Carlos’s post, “If you haven’t got time to invest in your future now, you have little time left in your future.”

  8. Laura, my instinct is that you are going to have a great career! I would find your pasion and enthusiam compelling if I were hiring!

    Another thing that most people don’t seem to realize is that your behaviour in a professional association is a window onto your professional performance. If someone is not willing to contribute to the “team”, then they don’t impress me. I have also found it possible to evaluate whether peers are strategic thinkers or tacticians in this context, which has allowed me to give my perspective to potential employers when asked. It is also an opportunity to judge to what extent you can trust someone. Life sometimes gets in the way of our good intentions and you can’t live up to expectations . But when you actively try to help someone step back until they have the time and energy to contribute, yet they still refuse to let go, despite the fact that they continue letting you down, that doesn’t inspire confidence that you could count on them at the office.

    A few years back, we had a really dynamic student member who demonstrated her potential by doing a great job as a volunteer. She later asked me to write a letter of recommendation. I can’t actually take credit for her getting hired, but I assume that my glowing recommendation didn’t hurt!

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