PR Executives…. Superheros Without A Cape

The Agency Life

In the summer of 2013, I embarked upon a path that eventually led me to Northeastern University. I had just graduated with an M.B.A. in Marketing from Mumbai University and I was eager to commence my professional career. Having found my greatest ally in words and everything related to content, I joined Edelman a PR agency located in India, Mumbai as an Account Executive. Thus began my journey into the uncharted territory of a PR agency.

As the world’s largest PR agency, Edelman, offered me probably the steepest learning curve. I was reporting to not one but four supervisors heading different practice areas in the agency. The term ‘matrix structure’ which was until now just a textbook phenomenon had turned into a rather scary reality. In my year long stint with Edelman, my experiences ranged from rewarding to reprimanding. It was here that I witnessed first-hand the cut-throat competition, unrealistic client expectations, deadlines, journalist tantrums, and team conflicts. However, by the time I moved on to my next stint, I knew for sure that the day of a PR executive was no less than that of any super hero who was worthy of being the face of any ensemble cast. From saving distressed clients from the blushes to finding new allies in colleagues and fellow media persons, we did it all in a day’s time and were ready to take on new challenges the next day.

Super powers: disciplined, systematized and innovative

I joined Adfactors PR, India’s largest communications and PR consultancy after my year-long association with Edelman. It was here that I really understood the role and influence that a PR person can exude over clients and media alike.

Most working days of a PR executive starts with something known as a ‘to-do list’. This is generally e-mailed to you by the supervisor and you’re expected to tick-off all the enlisted tasks. But it only gets more intriguing from here on out because by the end of the day you’ve done something entirely different from what had been planned for you in the morning. No two days are similar in this industry and the term, ‘dynamic environment’ is only an understatement to describe the situation.

In order to keep on top of these ever-changing assignments, it is imperative for PR professional to be disciplined. Many-a-time, one is advised to develop the skill of multi-tasking, which is true but only to a certain extent. I say this with such conviction simply because without discipline in multi-tasking, you’re only going to wreck the multiple tasks at hand. One such instance that comes to mind is when a PR executive has more than one deliverable with the same deadline. Now, he can either focus on each task separately and deliver them on time or fall short of keeping all the commitments.

Another key aspect that I learned at Adfactors PR was that bringing structure to my work even basic mannerisms of reaching the office on time, decluttering the work area, and taking refreshment breaks at regular intervals, play a vital role in smoothly tackling even the most challenging work situations. When the work is organized it fosters in gaining composure in the midst of chaotic work schedules. Systematized work leads to innovation and creativity. Most PR professionals get to hear the phrase ‘think out-of-the-box’ from clients and supervisors. I believe that you can come up with creative campaign ideas and coherent communication strategies when they’re able to convincingly cope up with an array of tasks.

Reaping benefits and rewards

Although there are numerous challenges for a PR executive, so are the rewards. The euphoria of observing the success of a campaign or the elation of monitoring the growth of a brand can be best described only by being part of such PR teams. It is no less than breathing new life into something that was until now just a name or a symbol. But by implementing strategies and putting your super powers to optimum use, these names and symbols swiftly metamorphose into gigantic brands, envied and aspired by markets across geographies. Having garnered three years of PR agency experience in India, I came to Northeastern University last fall to learn, share and hone on my communication abilities with the brightest minds in the industry.

As I interact with my professors and peers in class, I recognize how PR is so much more than just gaining media footprints for client organizations. In fact, the function of communications departments within organizations only helps in strengthening relationships with an array of stakeholders. In conclusion, if it is in an agency or in an in-house communications department the PR executive needs to practice his super powers judiciously because as we all know by now, ‘with great power, comes great responsibility.

About our blogger: Sanjeet Chowdhury is a graduate student at Northeastern University pursuing a MS in Project Management. He has been a PR professional in Mumbai, India and was working with Edelman and Adfactors PR. With a strong background in content writing, media management and communications strategy development, he has been an integral part of communications teams for start-ups and conglomerates. Sanjeet is accomplished in martial arts and holds a Black belt in Karate. In his leisure time, Sanjeet enjoys swimming, tennis, writing, and traveling. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram (@sanjeet2198).

Raising the Bar with SBAR: How to Communicate Effectively

One of the most intimidating parts of starting any new co-op is learning to communicate effectively with both your peers and your senior colleagues. Professionally and concisely explaining your views is difficult, and the potential for misunderstanding is high. In life or death situations that require a quick, informed response, improper communication can lead to unintended negative consequences. That’s why the healthcare community has almost universally adopted the SBAR procedure, which is designed to give the most relevant information as concisely as possible and take the guesswork out of decision making. Having a script to follow helps reduce the intimidation felt by more junior members of the team and helps increase confidence as well. SBAR is not just useful for healthcare workers, however. SBAR can help communication in every field, as long as you follow the steps below.

S- Situation

This is essentially the “why” of your phone call. What prompted you to pick up the phone in the first place? This is usually brief and confined to a sentence or two. The provider needs to know the main issue facing the team or the patient. The other major part of “S” is identifying yourself and your role. Don’t just launch into the problem without letting the person on the other end of the conversation know why they should be listening to you,

Real World Ex: “Hello John, this is Julia, the team leader for the testing program. We just ran the new software from your team and discovered a few bugs that need to be worked out before the launch.”

B- Background

This is where you provide the facts necessary to justify the call. It is also a way to reacquaint the provider or manager with the case. Managers and doctors work on many projects on a daily basis and may not remember every detail. Also, please be sure to have all relevant info in front of you when calling (vital signs, important dates, specific numbers or lab values, etc.). There is nothing worse than being asked a question and not having the answer. No one expects you to remember everything about a patient or product- but you must be able to look up the information quickly and accurately when required,

Real World Ex: “Jake from your team had sent us the Alpha software to test for any issues. The launch date is currently scheduled for Thursday. As we ran our basic testing we discovered that it tends to crash and is very slow with more than minimal use. Additionally, there are issues with security as we were easily able to obtain user passwords during our test.”

A- Assessment

This is where your knowledge comes into play. You know the patient or situation best and you likely have the knowledge to understand what needs to happen next. As a result, the provider or client will look to you for your assessment of the situation. You should have this analysis ready before calling the provider or manager.

Real World Ex: “I believe the software will need more time before launching due to the bugs presented.”

R- Recommendation

Based on the situation presented, what do you feel is the best course of action? Again, you should use your prior knowledge when deciding what to recommend and you should definitely know what your recommendation is before calling.

Real World Ex: “I think my team should run some additional testing before we give this to the client for approval. I’ll need at least three days to run the tests I need to feel comfortable with the software. In light of that, I believe the launch date should be postponed and the client notified so that my team can run the additional testing.”

SBAR is a tool that can be easily implemented to improve communication and ensure that team members receive the most pertinent information in a timely manner. It can be used over the phone, in an email, or in person to ensure that your views on every situation are communicated effectively. While SBAR is crucial for healthcare workers, it is relevant and needed in other areas as well. It saves time while making you seem knowledgeable and ready for any situation.

Julia Thompson is a second year Nursing major in the Bouve College of Health Sciences. She works as a nursing assistant at South Shore Hospital and is currently on her first co-op at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is the secretary of the Northeastern University Student Nurses’ Association and is also involved with Bouve Fellows. Feel free to contact her at thompson.jul@husky.neu.edu with any questions. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.

The Slowdown: How to Maximize Your Downtime at Work

In my work as a clinical assistant, there are times during my twelve hour shift where I cannot sit down due to the amount of work to be done, bustling from patient to patient in an effort to ensure everything gets done well and in a timely manner. But when patients are discharged and the unit activity slows to a crawl, the temptation to take out my phone and browse the Internet to kill time is strong, especially when other colleagues are also taking advantage of downtime to catch up on holiday shopping. But these slow times at work provide co-op students with several unique opportunities and should not be wasted. Here are my top tips to make downtime work to your advantage!

1.       Ask Questions!

In a field like nursing, knowledge is passed down in a generational way, with older nurses often eager to tell younger nurses about their experiences. I’ve found that waiting to ask questions about particular patient diagnoses until the unit is quiet allows for the nurse to give a more in-depth answer. This signals to them that you are interested in their opinions and are receptive to teaching, which could lead to greater opportunities for learning later. For example, a patient was admitted recently with a complicated diagnosis. The unit was bustling, so instead of asking the nurse about the situation while she was busy, I waited until a slower period. She eagerly explained the disease itself and also its treatment. Then, later on, she remembered my interest and asked if I wanted to watch a procedure being done on that patient. Now, she often invites me into the room to watch her work and will explain various aspects of her care to me. I have learned so much that I never would have known if I hadn’t used my downtime to ask questions.

2.       Offer Help!

There is nothing worse than seeing a colleague who has finished his or her work for the day sitting idly at the nurses’ station as you rush by, trying to keep your head above water. If everyone else is busy and you are not, offer your help! Even simple tasks like gathering supplies for a procedure or assisting with a complicated patient can ease the workload of your coworkers- and believe me, they’ll remember it! Helping your colleagues might seem like a no-brainer, but I have seen so many students answer calls for help with “But that’s not what I do” or simply sighing theatrically before giving aid. Don’t let your coworkers get to the point where they are interrupting your Facebook session to ask for your help- just offer it, no strings attached. They’ll be grateful and remember you as a dependable, motivated colleague.

3.       Do Something Extra!

When I first started my current job, I never thought I would end up being my pediatric unit’s resident arts and crafts provider. But early in the fall, my charge nurse asked if anyone wanted to decorate the unit for back to school season. None of the nurses enjoyed decorating and dreaded the task. Since I wasn’t busy, I volunteered for the task, and now I am responsible for adding cute holiday touches to our various decorations. There are owls dressed as elves next to colorful stockings and mittens with names of all our nurses on them. I’ll admit it, I might have gone overboard with the crafting! But now everyone on my unit knows me as the “cute crafts” girl, and visitors are always commenting on the new touches that are added every few weeks. Going above and beyond will always get you noticed, not to mention help you build relationships!

4.       Research, Research, Research!

One of my necessary items at work is paper and a pen for writing down illnesses, procedures, or equipment that I’ve never encountered. Then, during slow periods, I can search each one on Google, jotting down interesting facts or why a certain procedure might be done versus another. I also subscribe to several nursing and medical newsletters, and use the time to catch up on reading them. The information you gather from researching your field will serve you well in the workplace, making you informed and a valued team member. But it will also help you in classes by reinforcing what you are learning, and even adding context to the concepts outlined in class.

Overall, your downtime is a learning experience that should be valued. It is easy to look like a team player when everything is busy, but when things are slow it becomes painfully obvious when someone isn’t contributing their fair share. Raise your own personal bar, and you’ll find that you will get much more satisfaction out of your work! 

Julia Thompson is a second year Nursing major in the Bouve College of Health Sciences. She works as a nursing assistant at South Shore Hospital and is currently on her first co-op at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is the secretary of the Northeastern University Student Nurses’ Association and is also involved with Bouve Fellows. Feel free to contact her at thompson.jul@husky.neu.edu with any questions. You can follow her on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/juliavthompson) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/juliavthompson).