Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Chicken Soup for the PR Consultant Soul

I'm a natural curious person. I get bored very easily if I'm doing the same thing for a long period of time and I don't see any challenges that make an experience exciting. Boredom is the main reason why I have done so many things in my life, from trying dance lessons to join extracurricular school activities to learn how to cook (not a very big fan of it, I must say, but I try).

So after four years doing the same [unplanned] thing for a living, I have decided that is time to look for a different career path. After all, I graduated from Public Relations 3 months ago and I am ready to start applying for new jobs.

However, looking for new job opportunities is not that easy. I am terrible building resumes, and you don't even want to know about cover letters. I can stare at my computer's screen for hours before coming up with one very good sentence that describes me in my cover letter. Since I needed some help, I asked Jeff for his assistance.

Sitting on a couch at the brand new Surrey Public Library, it took me about an hour to get focused on building my resume. Jeff had an appointment with the doctor before, so he showed up a bit later. When he arrived where I was, he chuckled and then shook his head as I was telling him my tiny list of excuses on why I hadn't started yet. In big part, I was waiting for him: for some pressure on me (I work better under pressure). When it was time to create my cover letter, I was blank. He asked me to say whatever came to mind, and he was going to try to make it sound fancy and important. But it was very hard to describe myself, specially in a professional level. I know I am competent, but how to say it without sounding like "JUST HIRE ME".

"Just tell me how you would talk about yourself", Jeff insisted. My ESL wasn't helping out either. So the only values/adjectives/words that came to my mind weren't part of a cover letter, but of an inspirational biography.

"I'm not sure if this will help, but let me tell you why I studied Public Relations. Have I told you yet?"

Jeff shook his head one more time.

"Public Relations and Journalism became my passion the moment I stepped into my faculty in Lima", I started. Actually, by the time I started my first class in the San Martin de Porres University, I had no clue what Public Relations was; but I knew, however, that it was one of the graduation options after you were done your first 4 years in school.

I decided to study Sciences of Communications because I loved writing (and still do!). I loved the power of the media and how it is the bridge between the Government and the people. I am a sociable person, and I always felt attracted to being able to understand why people do or not certain things. And the only way to know this is by communicating. Everybody communicates, and everybody is part of society. So it became very important to me to be a person that could carry a message, unbiased- and say it objectively to the community.

After some classes on Public Relations, I realized that that was something I could try too. When I came to Canada, four years and a half ago, I tried to keep studying what I had been forced to stop in my native Peru. UBC, SFU, Capilano and BCIT offered wonderful Journalism programs, but none of them were comparable to what I had been studying. In Lima, my program had Journalism (Print/Radio/TV/Digital), Production, Publicity, Public Relations and Marketing all in one, and in your last year you could choose one of these programs as your specialization. They did this mainly because they wanted to educate you in many fields as possible so you can do more work with just being one individual instead of hiring 3 more people to do stuff that you already know - very third-worldish. But here in Canada you could just choose to study one, and graduate as that. I personally wanted more knowledge in me, so I read carefully all the programs and decided that BCIT was the most complete out of all the schools out there in BC. 

But to get into the BCIT Journalism program was a big challenge. They only accepted 60 students and you had to take a test (held only once a year) in order to be eligible for an interview and maybe then be part of the student body. Before even applying for the test, I had to have a Canadian Grade 12 diploma, so even though I had graduated from high school 2 years prior, I had to take some courses first to be able to graduate from high school in Canada. One year later, I was ready-ish for my test. After 14 months in the country, my English still wasn't perfect, and getting into the habit of reading newspapers of a place that I still didn't feel as "home" didn't attract me that much. I failed my first test with 12% below the passing mark, as most of the questions in the exam were about the news.

The second year my mark was even worse. Around 30% below the passing mark. In that moment I decided that I needed to study something else, something that could give me money and could be studied fast. I almost went for Early Childhood Education, but somehow found my old, dusty love for the promising career of Public Relations. BCIT was still an excellent choice, so I enrolled with them for their part time PR studies. I enjoyed most of the courses I took in those two years that the program lasted, and learned a great deal from most of them. After all, it was me the one that was paying for those classes, so I better had to pay attention.

After telling Jeff my little story, he had an idea of what I wanted to capture. So he wrote down a couple of sentences down. Twenty minutes later, we had a decent cover letter. I still got to come up with most of the content, but having my boyfriend (and best friend) with me giving me company and support made things way easier. Something about feeling loved makes the world go more smoothly. We decided to send a couple of resumes to job postings and call it a day since neither of us had had lunch that afternoon.

When I came back home in the evening, I felt good with myself. I felt like I was moving forward and had more hope than when I had left my house in the morning. Sneaking to my room, I found my sister in our bed studying with her book on her lap. She asked me how was my day and I told her it was pretty productive. That I had checked out some job postings with Jeff earlier and had applied for a couple. Then she asked me something that I always had trouble in answering: "Kati, what is Public Relations?"

"Ummm... well, it's... A PR consultant does a lot of things", I mumbled. "They are in charge of the Communications part of a company". Her puzzled look in her eyes gave me a hint that she had no clue of what I was saying. It was a very broad statement, so I had to give her examples to narrow it down.

"For example, if you are Coca Cola and you are releasing a new marketing campaign, the PR department has to take a look at what your new slogan is going to say. You don't want anything explicit or, say, racist, that could hurt people's feelings or be too inappropriate. The message that you convey is the face that your company is going to show to the world."

"Ok...", my sister said, looking more interested in my field.

"Also, PR people create articles in what we call Press Releases. Say, if you are Toyota and you are releasing a new car for the next year, and you want to tell the media, you write an article about it and send it to them, either newspapers' editors, radio or TV"

"Aaahh...", she said more fascinated.

"Another thing that we do is organize conferences. Say you are Apple, and you are releasing a new iPad. You call the media, gather them in a place that you had already rented and equipped, and have the CEO or whoever is the spokesperson to talk about it in front of everybody so the media can also make their own notes. To all these people you also have to give a media kit that contains a press release that you had already created and printed out, along with the background of the product, a Q&A sheet, etc etc"

I also told her about handling crisis in companies, which is a very exciting part of PR. By the end of my little introduction to Public Relations 101, Claudia was fascinated and clearly more informed than she had been 15 minutes before. I was glad that my little sister knew what I had chosen to study and found it kind of "cool".

As I was getting up from the bed to go make myself something to eat, she asked me why I had chosen PR.

"Well, you see, I strongly believe that a person deserves to know the truth. If it's a good truth, let's celebrate it and be merry; if not, you have to suck it up and deal with it. But people is too intelligent to hide things from them. Plus, nobody likes it. Nobody likes to be lied at. Would you like me to hide something bad from you for the longest time? You would for sure be mad and wont talk to me in months! But if something bad happens, and I tell you right away, you can still get pissed a week, maybe two, but after that you will appreciate my honesty and will talk to me again. Companies don't realize that. If everybody would be nicer to each other and build trust, the success of a company would be imminent! Companies are people, too. From people to people. And if I can help in that mission of mine, then I'll feel that I had made this place a better place to live everyday."

"Aaawww... sister!". I cannot describe exactly the look in my sister's eyes. It was a combination of admiration, pride, inspiration and hope. And I felt so proud of myself, too. That I was being the role model that my parents had always wanted me to be for my little sister. She had someone to look up to. Someone that she knew she could always trust and get support and inspiration from.

I then remembered something one of my aunts had told me years before when I was trying to figure out what to study after I graduate from high school, and it had been written down in my imaginary list of the sweetest things that I have ever been told. "It doesn't matter what you do with your life, you are going to do it great because everything you do, you do it with love".

Suddenly, the sun was shining out the window of my soul.

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