Tag Archives: Strategic Objectives

An Office of One’s Own

Office block at night with interior lights

Since I am currently a PR student, I have lots of homework and assignments in addition to my lectures. I often try to spend time in the library between classes to get ahead on my homework, but the results have been pretty dismal. I really don’t get that much done when I am sitting in the library. The general atmosphere of a library just doesn’t seem conducive to work. That is especially true when the library has other students who are talking to each other or watching videos on their smart phones. To really get work done, I need to be at home in my room.   I don’t usually work in total silence; in fact I almost always prefer to have music playing or at least the TV on in the background with something easy to ignore until it calls for my attention (news or sports). There is something different about having distractions that I have chosen, versus others that come uninvited. Of course one day I’d like to have my own office, not just a computer and desk in my bed room.

The idea of having an office isn’t just something I want for my home own day, but something that I desire in my place of work as well. Until the last few years where offices have changed significantly, the so-called “corner office” was something to aspire to. If you worked hard enough, you graduated from the communal space of the cubicle farm, to the private space to call your own. From there, you could maybe be lucky enough to end up in the C-suite, a separate space entirely where the offices are larger and provide insolation from everybody else. In those days the office space was a reflection of the hierarchy of the company, but things are changing.

My own experience

In my previous jobs I have worked in cubicles. I have often lamented the monotony of working in a cubicle farm. The experience makes it feel as though the company is specifically trying to destroy the morale of workers by putting them in a space that is as boring and drab as possible. An endless maze of identical squares and rectangles with minor distinguishing features between them is uninviting to say the least. Maybe I will live to regret feeling that way, as companies from every sector of the economy are trying to make their real estate more attractive to a new generation of employees. Cubicles are disappearing and open-concept is the new norm.

While I really enjoy the idea of having an office that creates a communal space with (supposed) flattened hierarchies, I am somewhat nervous about the prevalence of open concept spaces. Isn’t the idea of having everybody exposed to each other somehow damaging to creativity and quality work? It seems difficult to balance the need for open communications while also promoting a quiet and appropriate space for creativity and work.

It’s difficult to have all the good parts, without any of the bad. I like that Technology companies have led the way in transforming the office landscape. A communal kitchen, coffee corners, ping pong tables, cocktail hour? Yes please, sign me up! However the idea of knowing that I may never have an office to call my own is disappointing. I think plenty of people watch Mad Men yearn for the opportunity to have their own office in that 1960’s style. It’s not just the scotch bar next to the desk; it’s the comfort of having a little living room inside of your greater work space.

Like most office workers, I do want to work in a space that is inviting, friendly and generally some place I would like to spend my days (and occasional evenings/nights). One element that I find so attractive about the PR/Advertising industry is their ability to create and promote their own work places. When working previously I would google these organizations and become jealous of their amazing websites and offices. I like that the offices of major firms and boutique agencies have all of the forward-thinking elements of a technology company, with the professional sheen that a client service industry like law or finance demands.

A Tale of Two Offices

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to visit two great Public Relations agencies that I am interested in working for: Edelman and Strategic Objectives. Though they are both celebrated agencies with impressive histories, accolades and clients, they were also very different in how their office space was organized. Of course they are also very different companies in terms of clients and the breadth of services, so I am sure that makes a difference, but both were alluring.

Edelman’s Toronto office a very attractive and contemporary (in fact it was featured in the Globe and Mail when it was re-done). The energy and vibrancy of their office is very inviting and reflects the demeanor of their employees. Because this open house for PR students had students from multiple schools, we were a rather large group and we didn’t get the opportunity to actually tour the office. We were there for an information session and some schmoozing. Despite not getting a tour, I tried my best to get a good look at my surroundings. Their work space was totally open concept, with everybody on the same level and no barrier between them. Coming from a cubicle farm myself, I am eager to experience that type of environment for work. It gave the impression that there was constant communication and collaborating between employees, which was also emphasized by the presenters.

Beyond that, they also had a great common area which happened to be full of an assortment of fruit, cheeses, meats as well as champagne, wine and beer. It just happened to be Thursday at 4:00 p.m. when our session ended, which is Edelman’s own “foursies” time, where all employees get together to eat, drink and discuss their work. I can’t say for certain that Edelman is poppin’ bottles every Thursday at 4, but they went out of their way to give us that impression. I sincerely want Thursdays to end on that sort of high note.

In contrast to Edelman, Strategic Objectives had more of a traditional feel to it. For our visit at Strategic there were only about 30 of us, so we were able to get a bit of a tour rather than just attend an information session. The office had the same clean and inviting style, but with a major difference: cubicles and offices. Due to the smaller nature of Strategic Objectives, the cubicles and offices felt more welcoming since their space is too small to be considered a “cubicle farm”.   I liked that the office was quiet and the workers seemed to have their own little private spaces to work at. The silence was a little surprising compared to the ambient buzz of Edelman, but at the same time I feel that their space might be more conducive to creative pursuits. The lobby of Strategic Objectives is literally littered with trophies, awards and plaques, so clearly they are doing something right in terms of their office environment.

Strategic Objectives also gave us a nice little information session where they showed off some of their recent client work. They were also kind enough to give us some professional advice on writing and media pitching. Though they did less schmoozing, I did come home with some expensive organic fair trade chocolate and a box of Froot Loops, so I felt adequately seduced.

On offices and productivity

I’ll end this post with a bit of interesting information that I learned from a recent CBC documentary called Office Land that looks at the changing world of office spaces. Specifically it looks at how the offices of Silicon Valley’s technology companies have transformed the office spaces around the world. The host interviews corporate real estate types, technology company office workers, professors and those who study how the office space impacts performance. Some interested tidbits from the documentary included:

  • In 1994 the average office work had 90 square feet of space
  • Today the average office work has 75 square feet of space
  • 62% of Americans in 2009 said that a better looking office meant better performing employees

And most surprisingly:

  • For every 3 minutes a worker is disturbed or distracted, it takes 23 minutes to get back on track

And lastly, research by Gensler from offices that changed from 2008 to this year:

  • Saw a 6% drop in employee performance
  • Employees said they spent 20% less time collaborating.
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Extracurricular Activities: POD Camp TO 2014 and CPRS’s Building Media Relationships

POD Camp Logo

Despite the fact that the busy weeks of the CCPR I mentioned in a previous post have ended, I have nonetheless been busy with school work.  Luckily I was able to enjoy some extracurricular activities last weekend when I had some free time.  On Saturday, I volunteered for Pod Camp Toronto 2014 held at Ryerson’s  and on the following Monday evening I was able to attend an event put on by the Canadian Public Relations Society entitled Building Media Relationships at the University of Toronto.  I thought I would share these experiences with my few readers.

Pod Camp

Pod Camp’s are “un-conferences” that happen in cities all across North America which bring a diverse mix of professionals from the world of digital media, communications, podcasting and basically anything else related to those fields that attendee’s might find interesting.  It’s called an “un-conference” because it is pretty free-flowing and informal.  Essentially, if you are someone who has done something interesting and you want to share it to a wider audience, POD Camp will give you some space for a presentation.  The first Pod Camp happened in Boston in 2006, and since then they have sprung up in different cities.  While they are all alike in their style, each city hosts these events individually, so naturally ours were all local Toronto people.  The main thing I can say about Pod Camp is that it is extremely diverse.  On Saturday there were talks about: analytics, podcasting, authorship, artificial intelligence and publicity.  The best part of all is that Pod Camp is free thanks to generous sponsorship.

My main reason for going was to meet some of these interesting individuals, including Samuel Dunsinger who is one of the key organizers.  I was also eager to meet some of the other Public Relations students in the cities who are at other colleges.  Of course I was able to meet Samuel and a few of my PR cohorts from Seneca College, all of whom were very friendly.  I also had the pleasure of using a new Microsoft Surface Tablet (they are pretty slick) and get a good look at a 3D printer!  Lastly, I was hoping to meet some PR Professionals who I could rub elbows with.  Even though I had pre-greased my ‘bows, I wasn’t able to rub them on anybody.

Fortunately I was able to attend a talk about getting publicity put on by Daniela Syrovy, the President of Clutch Public Relations, a boutique PR agency in Toronto.  She runs a small firm and in my opinion is pretty much living the dream.  Her talk was mostly about the need for small businesses to use Public Relations tactics to help their sales.  She emphasized the value of PR over advertising and stressed the importance of tailored and short press releases that will gain wide attention.  In many ways she reiterating lessons I had already learned in class, but it felt validating to hear them again.  One thing I would like to point out is how awesome her work sounds.  I assume the dream for many communicators is to eventually run their own agency where they can pick the clients they want to work with.  When an audience member asked about facing difficulties in getting her clients good press, she confidently replied that all of her clients were awesome, and she only works with clients she truly believes are awesome.  Since her main clients are in the Arts and Film industry, I’d say she is right.

Obviously there were lots of interesting presentations, but there are two that I would like to share.  First, Anthony Marco, an educator and podcaster gave an interesting presentation on how to create an authentic voice.  He was an excellent and engaging speaker who gave a pretty brief overview of how speaking for a podcast is fundamentally different from other forms of media.  He pointed out the intimacy that exists in a podcast between the speaker and the listener, how it is an individual experience for each member of the mass audience.  He also was really admirable for the fact that he is doing what he loves.  He does all sorts of podcast on pretty nerdy topics, but you can tell he is passionate about his work (or hobbies).  His audience was quite involved and asked many questions, which he happily answered.  While I don’t currently podcast, it is something I would like to do in the future and I’m sure I’ll keep his advice in mind.

One other presentation that I couldn’t attend (but did supervise) was Marco Petkovski who gave a really popular talk on helping start-up companies to use analytics. The small room he presented in was so full that people were sitting on the floor, and afterwards he was gracious enough to answer everybody’s individual questions for more than 30 minutes.  He is currently working at digital design firm Teehan+Lax, who have an awesome website and who are doing some very interesting work.  Though I haven’t started my course on online measurement and metrics, I feel his talk will prove useful in the future.  Anyway, I won’t describe the details because I have found a video of his Pod Camp presentation:

PodCamp Toronto, Helping Startups Use Analytics, Marco Petkovski, February 22, 2014, Ryerson University

CRPS Building Media Relationships

CRPS BMR Panel

CRPS BMR Panel

One of the best things about being a student again is getting the student discount for professional societies.  When I was working in Communications previously, I wanted to join one of them, but wasn’t prepared to pay the steep member price.  Just a few weeks ago I was minted as a student member of the Canadian Public Relations Society.  Naturally I was eager to attend any event that brought me together with others in the industry.  On Monday night CPRS Toronto hosted a seminar for students entitled Building Media Relationships.

The panel included two journalists and three public relations professionals: Carly Weeks from the Globe and Mail, Katia Ostapets from FAJO Magazine, Kelly Baita from Strategic Objectives, Robin Smith from National PR, and Nina Kalos of Veritas PR.  This panel was diverse as Carly Weeks writes on Health, Katia writes on Fashion Events, Robin respresents technology clients, while Kelly and Nina represent a wide range of consumer clients.  I really enjoyed having the opportunity to hear questions answered from both sides of the industry.  As a PR student, I am always getting valuable advice from my profs who were former PR professionals, but we don’t get to hear the opinions of journalists.  It’s nice to hear the opinions of journalists at the same time as PR folk.  One of the best things I took away from the panel was the kind relationship Journalists and PR people have.  I naturally assumed they antagonized each other, but each of the speakers really enforced the need to create friendships above and beyond the professional relationship.

I have to admit that the attendance was a little dismal given the amount of PR students and young professionals within the Toronto industry.  I figure any opportunity I have to interact with industry-types outside of the classroom is something I should capitalize on.  I hope CRPS keep hosting these type of events that support students who require all the help they can get.

Don’t miss PODCamp next year, and be sure to keep an eye out for CPRS events folks, you may live to regret it.