Reflecting on my CCPR experience

A few weeks ago I finished classes at Centennial College’s Corporate Communications and Public Relations program and it really felt like a whirlwind. Some days were extremely long, but the weeks and months flew faster than I imagined. I thought it would be useful to reflect on my experience with CCPR not only as a means to inventory my skills and experience, but also to provide a look inside the program for future students.

Why I came to CCPR

I came to the program because I knew I wanted to work for an agency and this seemed like a great way to gain the skills I wanted and eventually get my foot-in-the-door as an intern. One of the things I realized on the first day was the very different reasons why people came to this program and the different places they were coming from. As expected, most people who come to college to do a post-graduate certificate are recent University/College graduates, but there are others who had significant work experience but wanted to change their career (glad I wasn’t the only one!). I came to this program because I wanted to learn a set of specific skills that I didn’t gain in my previous work doing technical writing and marketing communications. During interviews over the previous year that were more PR-focused I realized I didn’t know enough about project management, strategic communications planning, social media monitoring, media relations or event management. I knew that Centennial’s CCPR program had classes in these subjects and being able to learn those skills in an 8 month timeframe was a great opportunity to learn quickly. For the other skills I already felt I had, it was great to have a refresher about copy editing, writing for specific audiences and learning more about graphic design. Now I feel totally ready to reach my goal of working for a PR agency.

Learning the tools of the trade

One of the most frustrating parts of job searching is reading the description of your dream job only to realize that you don’t know anything about the industry-specific tools they use. Communications jobs offer a huge array of possibilities, with some digital communications positions requiring knowledge in front-end and back-end web development, while other more creative jobs require knowing how to use most of Adobe Creative Suite or business/marketing oriented jobs require being an advanced user of excel with proficiency in quantitative analysis methods. Most of these software skills are pretty difficult to learn on your own. I wanted to know more about programs such as: CisionPoint, Google Analytics, MR2P and InDesign. While I am not an expert, I can at least use them at an intermediate level and I understand what they do. Learning new software is one of the most difficult parts of any class or job, but I am proud to say that I am pretty comfortable using these tools that I knew nothing about 8 months ago.

Getting real world experience

Looking back I am impressed with the exposure I received while working with real world clients and campaigns. College is all about hands-on learning of practical skills and CCPR provided those opportunities. Obviously for Toronto PR types, studying this discipline during the media frenzy of Rob Ford’s antics provided a pretty perfect backdrop for talking about real situations for this year, but it went well beyond that. While not every assignment was directly from a real client, the situations were drawn from current issues clients have dealt with or at least based on previous real campaigns that our instructors worked on during their PR/Communications careers.

Part of the program is also getting out into the real world and contacting professionals. Leaving the comfort of the classroom was pretty terrifying at first, but it was also absolutely necessary. I was lucky enough to interview another newly minted PR professional who was working at Edelman, and an award-winning editor of Orphan Black. Eventually I was given the opportunity to bring in people from the real world and create actual campaigns or events to meet the needs of their business or organization. Throughout my various classes I was able to work with real clients including: The Casey House, Prostate Cancer Canada, The Ontario Educational Collaborative Marketplace, Christian’s Children’s Fund of Canada, Centennial College and Stikeman Elliott LLP.

Here is a photo of my amazing Event Management group at the El Mocambo with the CEO of Casey House Stephanie Karapita.

Hearts in Harmony event at El Mocambo for Casey House

                                          Hearts in Harmony event at El Mocambo supporting Casey House

I won an award of recognition from Christian Children’s Fund of Canada for helping spread the word about their Free From Violence Campaign on social media. If you’re reading this PLEASE add your name to the petition to make ending violence and exploitation of children a priority for the United Nations. http://freefromviolence.org/take-action/

Me with the CCFC Communications Team

                                                          Me with the CCFC Communications Team

Advice for incoming students

  1. Network – Networking isn’t even optional anymore, it is an absolute necessity. No matter what your chosen career path or profession, it is extremely important to have connections to important and influential people in your industry. Join the IABC or CPRS and go to their events. Volunteer your time with local events or charities. If you meet an interesting guest-speaker in class or a former student, add them on LinkedIn. Go to agency open houses. As a student you’re in a place where people want to help you out because they began their career the same way. Do whatever you can to build your network because this is the perfect time to do it.
  2. Go to class – This program is only eight months long and it will go by very quickly. Since it’s a condensed program the days can be very long and it’s tempting to skip a class here or there once you’re feeling burnt out. Don’t. It is important that you go to class and absorb everything you can. You’re paying for it after all.
  3. Build a portfolio – The assignments you’re doing on a weekly basis aren’t just something to be submitted for grades and forgotten about. What you are learning and creating in these classes apply to directly to the real world. If you work hard and create/write something fantastic, wear it as a badge of honour and show it off during future interviews.
  4. Befriend your instructors – You spend every day listening and taking notes from real professionals from your field. In the case of Centennial you may be lucky enough to be learning from someone with a lifetime of experience as a consultant, director or executive in the industry you want to join. These are the types of professionals you wouldn’t normally have access to as a junior member of a company or agency, so take advantage of the opportunity.
  5. Take initiative – Beyond your normal classes and work different opportunities will come up for school-wide projects, volunteer opportunities or maybe even part-time jobs. Take initiative to be involved in or help out with any opportunity that comes your way. It will make you stand out from your peers.
  6. Set a goal – Although the world of public relations and communications offers many different types of careers and opportunities, it never hurts to plan ahead. Your classes will give you exposure to media relations, event planning, strategic communications, social media management and all sorts of disciplines that are related to specific jobs. Figure out what type of work you like and what type of sector you want to work for in your future. It’s great to get a head start on this before you begin applying for internships and junior positions.
  7. Stay positive – The world of public relations in Toronto is pretty small, interconnected and highly competitive. That last part is true of an industry in the last half-decade. Never before have so many highly educated young people had such a difficult time finding a job, let alone their dream job. The whole experience of searching for a job or an internship can be physically and emotionally taxing. Work hard, network, advertise yourself and most importantly: stay positive. Negativity is contagious and counter-productive.

Of course classes are the easy part. Now comes the real hard work of breaking into the industry. Stay tuned to this blog as next week I will be reporting from the trenches.

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American Apparel needs to tell their great story

American Apparel has been in the news quite a bit over the past week or two due to the Board of Directors attempting to remove Dov Charney as President and CEO of the company. And now even more in the news as Mr.Charney tries to increase his ownership stake to 50% so he can keep the company. I admit that I saw this as an eventual outcome with Mr.Charney’s repeated lawsuits about sexual harassment from employees. There haven’t been many prominent Americans (Dov is actually Canadian btw) who have been able to recover after photos or videos of their penis has been released to the masses. Although he did manage to parry these issues for a few years, the more pressing issue is American Apparel’s dismal stock performance.

AAP 10 year

American Apparel stock did reasonably well after their IPO and then peaked in 2008. Sadly it was pretty much downhill from there. I am sure raising the stock price is the main focus and goal of the different hedge funds that are fighting out a proxy battle with the board, but the best parts of American Apparel actually come from Mr.Charney.

 

The good

It isn’t easy to appease and attract investors when you strive to be ethical and progressive in a way that Mr.Charney does. He is committed to his plan of manufacturing his clothes in the USA, which is already considerably more costly than most major clothing manufacturers/retailers who do all their production in third-world countries, then add in the fact that he believes in paying American workers a living wage and you’ve got a pretty expensive operation.

In fact, lots of what American Apparel does is in stark contrast to their competition.

10 great things about American Apparel

  1. American Apparel is committed to making sweat-shop free clothes
  2. All their clothes are manufactured in Los Angele’s garment district
  3. They strive to pay their employees a ‘living wage’ that is beyond the minimum wage set by the state
  4. In the past they have very quickly responded to natural disaster by donating their clothes
  5. Their ads feature actual American Apparel employees rather than celebrities or models
  6. They believe in equality and support LGBT right
  7. Their products are sourced from organic cotton because they care about the environment as well as the livelihood of cotton farmers
  8. They recycle as much as possible and even have a solar installation on their roof that generates clean and renewable energy
  9. They support progressive immigration reform
  10. Their clothes are actually great quality without a prominent

 

The Bad

Now the bad in this instance is pretty obvious. They have received lots of criticism over the years about their advertising being too sexualized and sometimes downright creepy. This seems like a bit of a moot point in the world of fashion where all the major brands use sex to sell their products. At least their sexy ads still have woman actually wearing the clothes they are supposed to be advertising. We’re all aware of the other companies who create ads that feature a naked model to sell clothes we can’t see, but those companies aren’t facing the same issues as American Apparel.

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Obviously the biggest problem with sexy advertising that features half-naked young employees is the fact that it is an uncomfortable reminder of Mr.Charney’s sexual harassment lawsuits that allegedly involve the very same employees. In fact, their hiring practices are suspect since their ads feature employees, clearly they hire women based on appearance. As far as I know you need to submit photos of yourself when applying for a job at their retail outlets.

Even if American Apparel’s unique posters and ads worked at first, they probably should have made a change in direction after these lawsuits emerged. Their inherent link to sex and provocation isn’t just limited to ads, they also carry products like “The Lolita Mini Skirt” which isn’t doing them any favours. Being provocative is one thing, but with the noise of sexual harassment lawsuits in the back of our minds, these ads are doing them a disservce.

 

The Future

Ethical consumerism is quickly becoming a real movement. The Bangladeshi garment factory that collapsed last year resulted in hundreds of death and was a catalyst for this movement as it pertains to purchasing clothes. Unfortunately these type of ethical consumer movements are having a difficult time gaining real traction with the average consumer. This is partially due to the sluggish economy and dismal job prospects for millenials. When (or if) this economy turns around and millennials have real purchasing power studies indicate that ethical business practices will play a major role in the decision making process for where they spend their money.

When this whole battle for power subsides in the upcoming months (hopefully not years) the company would be well advised to scrap their previous branding and advertising. They have a great story to tell about a progressive clothing company that is aligned perfectly with the consumers of tomorrow. Scrap the sexy ads and let other company’s play it out. They already have cool, simple and fashion-forward clothes that appeal to millenials, now all they need to do is put all their messaging behind it. If consumers can find something that they feel good in and feel good about, it’s a win/win for the company.

Admittedly I am not proposing something completely new. Their website features lots of information about their vertical intregration, corporate social responsibility, political activism and sustainable business practices. They also leverage social media to communicate these messages in a pretty impressive effort. However, I feel that these messages don’t stick in the minds of consumers because they are overshadowed by their sexy ads, which their brand is so synonymous with. They need to put all of their efforts into telling the great and often overlooked story behind the company.

American Apparel’s current vision and values will align perfectly with the consumers of tomorrow. If they focus their communications, branding, advertising and public relations on the right areas they could really reap the benefits of everything Mr.Charney has worked hard to create. Whether Mr.Charney is with the company by the end of the year or not, he deserves some credit for creating a fantastic brand that is currently under appreciated and undervalued.

Influencers, Prophets and Charlatans

This post is supposed to engage a key influencer, but I confess that I don’t yet know any influencers, so instead I thought I would profile one (with a healthy dose of skepticism for good measure).

In most cases “influencers” are naturally identified due to their influence over specific stakeholders or consumers within a community, market or sector, but sometimes influencers are an industry unto themselves. David Shing, who goes by the moniker Shingy, is one of those people. The bespectacled Australian with the Edward Scissorhands hairdo who looks like he is part of LMFAO is actually the “Digital Prophet” at America Online.

One of these dudes is Redfoo, one is a party rocker, and one is a highly successful influencer of business.  Can you spot the Prophet?

                  A Redfoo, a party rocker, and a highly successful influencer of business. Can you spot the Prophet?

Being a Digital Prophet is one hell of a title for any sort of position within a company. The fact that the company is AOL gives it significantly less credence. However his role at AOL doesn’t really seem to matter since it seems Shingy spends most of his time away from the office giving talks and presentations at various events around the globe. Most recently he was one of the speakers at Cannes Lions, which I wrote about last week. He was also in our fair city of Toronto last month to visit the offices of JWT Canada to talk about predictions for the future of digital.

Now obviously I have never had the pleasure of being at a Shingy presentation, but I must admit that I am skeptical. On his website he has a publication called Future Doing, a sort of sparse manifesto on digital trends. To be honest most of the information seems pretty basic, self-evident and oriented around buzzwords, though styled in way that is reminiscent of Marshall McLuhan. I am not saying his advice isn’t useful, maybe he is on the cutting edge and pushing industries in the right direction, but he also seems to be an influencer simply because he states he is one. In the same way that today we have de facto celebrities, we have de facto influencers and there is definite overlap. Look at Will.I.Am going from The Black Eyed Peas backup vocalist to a Creative Director at Intel.

Once you’ve made the claim that you’re an influencer and visionary you can really soar off your own momentum. Then you can pretty much say anything you want and people will pay good money to listen. Clearly I am not the first person to rag on Shingy or Will.I.Am, but I think that is important companies don’t spend their time embracing the cult of personality.

Despite my skepticism of these self-proclaimed influencers/futurists/prophets or whatever they want to call themselves, I certainly agree that it’s a cushy job. If you can find enough rubes to make your prophecy self-fulfilling then go for it. In fact I now aspire to be one of these self-styled gurus. Goodbye Benign Propagandist…hello Social Soothsayer. I need to purchase some extremely large sunglasses, garish outfits and grow out my hair. Next year I’ll be ready to peddle some influence and pseudo-wisdom.

Sorry for prophet knockin’