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The merits of a grounded CV

28/02/2011

I bring a wealth of leadership experience and I can tie my own tie.

PRs invented hype, they don’t need to read it in your CV.

When I was in LA, I fell into conversation with a stranger who by way of asking me the New York question, “So, what do you do?” instead asked, “So, are you an artist?”

Isn’t that great? His take was to assume I was somebody until I proved I wasn’t. How very LA. Here I think it’s safer to assume the opposite, especially in PR.

PRs by nature have to be among the most cynical, of course they don’t believe the hype – they wrote it. So maybe a more grounded approach to your PR CV might cut through the traffic.I read about an experiment ages ago, two identical CVs were circulated. The only difference being that one CV had a flaw, can’t remember what the flaw was now, maybe the person had been fired out of a job or something. Anyway the result was startling; the CV with the flaw was called up for way more interviews than its perfect counterpart. Reasons being:

FLAWS = TRUTH

PERFECTION = LIES

To me a strong CV, like any good narrative ‘shows’ not ‘tells’. I read a LinkedIn profile the other day that began, ‘I am an exceptionally talented leader…” I can’t tell you any more I hit the back button.

God-like statements of self-belief are great for The Apprentice but seem to resonate less well when the cameras aren’t running.  I mean for all your fabulous attributes, clearly humility isn’t in your chemical mix. Besides you sound like a knob and who wants to work with one of those?

Author, broadcaster and businesswoman, Muriel Grey at the beginning of her career in fashion was advised, “You’ll have to embroider your CV.”

Her response was, “But that will take ages!”

Indeed, but at least it would have been more compelling than your standard puff piece that so many feel compelled to write.


Culture shock

24/02/2011

Anyone for fun? How very dare you!

Has sam gone LA LA?

A long flight, a big immigration queues and too many healthy looking people. Everybody’s smiles are perfect, everybody’s thighs are toned. I’m tired. I’m disorientated.and I’m not going to like it here. I decided that when I was about 14.

But just as my weary, cynical, sooty, London soul was about to curl up and demand room service, that Californian sunshine played some rancid trick on me and my inner Tigger came bounding out. Just like that! And before I knew it I was hopping on and off the buses (a remarkable event in itself) visiting 50’s shops, farmers’ markets, the Kodak Theatre, the Walk of Fame, and the place with all the signed paw prints of the famous and the dead. Since the beginning of time it seems Hollywood A Listers have had very small feet, as do LA gang members I noticed, not that I pointed it out. I even visit the gym everyday and courtesy of jet lag can be found there at 6.30 every morning, working out and smiling. I can’t explain it myself.

Then after catching up on an episode of Millionaire MatchMaker ( I LOVE that woman) and dressed in American Vintage, I sashay over to campus with my big cup of something all psyched and ready for my post grads. Everyone is engaging, bright, kind and respectful. It’s culturally shocking but don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it, it’s quite infectious. Today I even sit in on a class to hear all about US privacy laws and how they apply to news reporting. It appears that people no longer put their hands up anymore in class, even registering this at the time I could not help but go all Hermione-like, with my arm shooting up with a bad case of girly-swat tourettes, so determined was I to participate.The group coped with me as best they could. Seems they were expecting some bored, aloof, disdainful English chick, (so was I) so this bouncy bird with the bad teeth has taken them by surprise.

The only time my enthusiasm faltered was when I noticed how sexy everybody’s technology was. The power supply for my machine was bulkier than the entire classroom’s kit put together. So who knew that I’d get out to LA and shrug off all my body/lifestyle/age/fashion neuroses, and just come back with gadget issues!

At least I still have issues and for that we’re all truly grateful.


First project nerves

18/02/2011

One week of being a PR freelancer and  Londoner Sam Howard is off to LA. What can possibly go wrong?

are palm trees supposed to look this intimidating?

So, I’m in the final throes of preparation for my trip tomorrow. As brag factors go, jetting off to LA, a week after turning freelance, has to be right up there. I’m off to a super swanky US university to mentor post grads. And it’s not that I’m not grateful for this opportunity, I am.

Really I am.

It’s just that:

Among other things, I’ve volunteered to give a three hour workshop; and although I’ve worked in the comms industry for 17+ years I’m not sure I can talk about it for longer than 20 minutes…

AND I’ve prepared all the materials from scratch, AND in an enormous hurry, it’s a shiny new deck and probably every slide harbours a typo which will only declare itself when projected onto a 20 foot screen in a room full of clever people…

AND, LA is 500 square miles, I have a disgraceful sense of direction, I am a rubbish driver and walking apparently is not an option. I know I’m going to get lost on my first day, arrive late, look a total twat etc etc…AND, I don’t know anyone, any restaurants, any shops, any neighbourhoods, any reasons d’être to be in LA. I could just go to the beach, but it’s Venice beach and it’s February and I’m not sure my pale and imperfect bod will even be allowed on it…

AND everyone keeps telling me that I will love LA, everyone. That the people are like the weather – warm, beautiful, friendly and relaxed. But the thing is, I am more a product of our own inclement climes, frigid, haggard, hostile and neurotic. What if I make students cry?..

Besides I love New York, love it, love the people, the food, the shops, the art, the weather, the architecture. I know my way around New York . I know my way around the people. Everyone says that LA is nothing like New York…AND last night, I phoned a friend and whimpered that I’m about to go down more like Ricky Gervais than Piers Morgan. Obviously I wasn’t actually looking for a practical solution, just to hear the sound of my own voice bleating. But he only goes and ‘helps’! Hooks me up with his fabulous friend, an LA local, assures me we’ll get on like a house on fire. Turns out she’s a supremely successful fashion stylist, dresses the A List for the red carpet…

AND so now, on top of everything else, I don’t know what to wear. I’ve always been so disdainful of labels. Will that catch on do you think? In LA??

So think: a badly dressed – Ricky Gervais – arriving late  – at the Golden Globes – no one to talk to – and fluffing his lines  – on already ill-judged script.Only difference is, I do want this gig again.

 


Go on step on the grass… when it’s OK to go off message

15/02/2011

Another of Sam Howard’s pet rants subjects:

In PR you hear a lot about being ‘On Message’. This is very important isn’t it? Being On Message, having your people rehearsed and slick, so they can always be On Message? Oh pulllease.

If a journalist knows what you’re going to say before you open your mouth why would he/she bother to rock up for the interview? I mean seriously, what’s in it for them? If they just want the corporate spiel, they’ll check out your website. If they want to talk to you it’s cos there’s a vague hope that in and around the adaptable-scalable-innovative-flexible monologue you might actually have a view, say something interesting, topical, original, human even, and actually provide some decent copy.

The best view to have, I think, is one that runs contra to the stream. Back in the mid 90s when I laboured over my very first press release, I was super diligent about being fact-based and succinct, (I had been trained well, forever in debt Mr Springett) but I didn’t have the confidence to write the quote for my boss. So instead, I wrote, “Say something contentious here.” And he did, and it worked a treat. Mr Caplin, gotta love him and even if you don’t, he always makes great copy.

On occasion, it’s OK to fess up to that slightly dodgy implementation when your record is normally great, and you can demonstrate you have learned from it. Or to admit the recession might be taking its toll on you too, but you are gonna haul your weary backside out of it, or die trying.

You see the joy of sometimes wondering off message means that when you do get back on it, your audience might actually believe you. And isn’t that quite important? Besides, whoever wants to hear somebody else’s diet is going really really well?

When I work with my PR clients we work hard on looking at where we can first and foremost add some value/originality to the debate. You know not everything that comes out of your mouth is necessarily going to be that great and that’s where your trusted PR comes in – they can tell you what to run with and what not to bother banging on about, because it is irrelevant or just actually not that interesting. Sometimes it is all about the team singing from the same hymn sheet, but other times you just need to know a good tune.


Determined to be in PR? That’s handy

04/02/2011

Sam Howard asked a question of the UK Technology Journalists and PR Group on LinkedIn – what makes a great PR? One word answers only.

At the time I wrote this I’d had 41 answers from presumably a random selection of PRs. Having turned freelance only weeks ago I have some time on my hands so I tidied it up a bit and here’s a word cloud of how it looked…

If you add to ‘determined’ ‘resilient’ and ‘resourceful’ you’re looking at about a third of the vote. Seems we are just as well-suited to being long distance runners, a mountain climbers, swimming the channel or something else equally draining. ‘Strategic’ always a good one, gets a double name check, as does ‘personable’ and ‘creativity’, my own guilty pleasure.

Not sure about ‘magical’ myself, but I guess if you are the rest of it is easy.

But the one for me is ‘credible’. To be credible in front of your clients, your journalists, your team and your management generates trust, mutual respect and a sustainable reputation. After 16 years in this industry, my integrity, if not my ego is just about intact. Doesn’t mean I was ever the most popular girl in the room, and I was certainly an acquired taste among our clients, some of which we thought it best if I never met. But, as I used to whimper when I’d lock myself in the bathroom, “I’m not paid to be popular”.

Actually once you let go of the vague hope of ever being popular, it is quite liberating. Give it a go if you haven’t already.