Archive of ‘Learning’ category

Impacting the world, one event at a time

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(The following is a profile I wrote for my Public Relations Writing course. It was originally published on The Word, the blog of the CC+PR program at Centennial.)

Kate Millar found herself at a crossroads following her stint in Centennial’s Corporate Communications and Public Relations program.

She wasn’t sure what kind of career she wanted, but knew event planning had to be a part of it. It was only after interning at the York University Foundation that Millar found her true calling.

“A fundraiser is the perfect time to interact with your donors and really understand how your organization is impacting the world and the local community. You get to tap into the people who have a real love for [the cause].

“I then realized I am more of an event planner than I am a PR person.”

Following her internship, Millar was involved in planning a run for 10,000 people for the Mississauga Marathon, another not-for-profit organization and a cause close to her runner’s heart. She also worked in the development department at McMaster University before ending up at the Toronto International Film Festival Group (TIFFG), a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world through the moving image.

As the development assistant for special events at TIFFG, Millar’s role includes planning stewardship events and planning the film festival’s staff and volunteer appreciation party. But it is managing the relationships with sponsors that she finds the most challenging and most rewarding.

“It’s getting these people on board and pitching it in a way that says, ‘You have to give it to us for free.’” Her passion and experience in the not-for-profit sector have made Millar very successful in maintaining strong partnerships with TIFFG sponsors.

Millar credits her successful career to the comprehensive nature of Centennial’s program, and uses the knowledge she gained to this day. “It gives you a great base of solid skills. You can start off in one area in your career and a couple of years later come to another sector where you have to start drawing on different skills.

Millar believes she learned the most from the Event Management course. “It taught you how to go out into the community, really focus on the vision and reason you are throwing an event.” She is also grateful for the writing courses and advises current and future students not to take them lightly. “Even if you don’t take a heavy writing job, you still need to be very vigilant about your messaging and how you communicate.

“There will be courses you really enjoy and there will be courses you don’t enjoy,” she says, “but you just have to do the work; you never know when you will have to draw on the skills they teach you.”


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Musings

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Forgive me. It’s been two months since my last post. My mental energies have been devoted to school, school, school. Now that the worst is over, I can return to my musings.

Here are some from the past few weeks:

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I attended an IABC seminar a few weeks ago (All-Star Social Media). Shel Holtz gave a great presentation on the communicator’s leadership role in integrating social media tools into their communications plans.

I spoke to a former colleague afterwards who remains unconvinced about social media. And he’s not alone. There are a few holdouts in my class, my family. And these are the very same people who have Facebook accounts. The irony alone kills me.

I’ve been privy to both sides of the argument. On the one end, you have the “social media as a fad” faction; on the other lies the rabid social media juggernaut. I plant myself somewhere in the middle, and here’s why:

Social media is not for everybody. Communicators should not jump in and acquire social media tools without some intelligence-gathering beforehand. Find out how your audience likes to receive your news. A publicly traded company may have a more conservative audience in their investors and should keep to the tried-and-true methods of communication (eg. newswire, mailings, e-mail distribution). There are also regulations surrounding the dissemination of material news; there must be some level of control so it is best to tread wisely in this area.

Use the force wisely. The road to social media is littered with companies who have attempted to reach out to their audiences using social media and failed miserably. (I’m looking at you, Wal-Mart.) It’s akin to a middle-aged man dancing in a nightclub filled with twenty-somethings and trying to look cool. (I’ve seen this; it’s funny and sad at the same time.) You have to know the rules before you enter the blogosphere; it’s already filled with detritus of johnnies-come-lately who jumped on the bandwagon then quickly jumped off once they realized that a) they don’t really have anything to say or b) it takes a long-term commitment to keep a blog. (My colleague, Mike, calls this Noodle Code – blogs with no planning or direction.)

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I saw this article on “wedding wikis” on Wall Street Journal’s website (www.wsj.com). It works like this: a couple are planning their wedding, a very personal event to celebrate their union as man and wife. They create an online polling site where they ask their prospective guests to help them decide on such mundane matters as, “Should I wear my hair up or down?” (if the groom-to-be is asking this, then it wouldn’t really be mundane, would it?) or “What song should we have our first dance to?”

Have we become that connected to each other that we must share every minute detail of our lives with each other? It is socially acceptable to ask your guests to help plan YOUR wedding? I’m already paying for the priviledge of attending, is that not enough?

As a singleton, weddings are not my favourite events to attend. I mostly go for the food and try to avoid catching the bouquet. (It’s simple – stand at the back, don’t put your hands up and steer clear of the rabid bridesmaids who will gladly wrestle each other for a few gladiolas and roses.) The one joy I get is to see how bad or great a wedding can be. I want to be surprised, so that I can regale my co-workers or classmates with funny stories (e.g. my aunts dancing to Strokin’; the flower girl lifting her dress up over her head during the ceremony). Spontaneity is the key to life and having everybody in on the fun is, well, not fun.

Again, you also have to do your research – how many of your guests are social media savvy? Is it going to come down to a few deciding on behalf of many? And is this a matter of the couple really trying to tailor their event for the pleasure of their guests? Or is it just an attention-getting manouver for a Bridezilla? As the author of the piece suggests, the true nature behind a wedding wiki is how faithful the couple will be to the choices of their guests. If polling results favour an erotic wedding cake, I wonder how many brides would honour that. If I set up a wiki for my wedding, I know I would.

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A previous post was devoted to Tina Fey. I am a Fey-natic and looked forward to her movie, Baby Mama. I saw it and was disappointed.

Have you ever walked out of a movie and rewrote the ending in your head? And was the rewrite much better than the drek on the screen? I walked out of the theatre dejected. Tina, I thought, how could you do this to me? The movie ended up another paean to domesticity. Literally. The last scene heading into the credits is littered with babies and families. What happened to the single woman who wanted a baby on her own terms?

I will forgive her, however – she didn’t write the movie, just starred in it. I will wipe this movie from my memory by watching back-to-back episodes of 30 Rock and old episodes of SNL.


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My first week of school, or How I learned to stop wor­ry­ing and love the blog

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It is the end of the first week of school and I have survived. No wedgies, no Uggs, no sea of laptops in class.

The fears I laid out in my first post were all for naught. The benefit of a post-grad winter program is the variety of people enrolled in it. There are a few students fresh out of their undergrad term at university but the majority, like me, came from the workforce. We all bring different perspectives to the table and there has already been a good exchange of ideas and opinions. The size of our class (31) also allows for a feeling of closeness and solidarity – we even started our own Facebook group!

The funny thing is, we take the same classes together. Coupled with the fact that our campus served as Degrassi High, at times it feels like I’m back in high school. (I think my locker is near Joey Jeremiah’s but I haven’t been able to confirm it.) And like high school, the cafeteria food leaves a lot to be desired. Thankfully, the Danforth is just a 10-minute walk away.

I have an advantage over most of my fellow students when it comes to corporate communications and P.R. But I’ve discovered there is a lot more I need to learn. Like how to write, for example. As I mentioned in my first post, it has been a long time since I wrote anything beyond a client proposal or an e-mail. Back then, I had a tendency toward the verbose and the thesaurus was my bible. Since there is no demand for 2,000-word news releases, I will strive to learn the seven C’s of good writing: clear, concise, correct, coherent, complete, consistent and creative. The CP Style Guide will become my new bible.

Another tidbit I picked up was how to read newspapers. I mean, REALLY read newspapers. I subscribe to the Toronto Star and read it religiously every morning. But I tend to skim over most of the articles, reading only the first two and last paragraphs to get the gist of the article. But after my first Media Relations class I began to analyze the paper and noticed something: Every journalist has a bias. It tends to be obvious and expected with columnists like Rosie DiManno of the Star and Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail. But the bias of other reporters tends to creep in “hard” news stories. For example, take this article in last Thursday’s National Post:

’09 Afghan pullout too soon, experts say

It is already too late for Canada to withdraw from combat in southern Afghanistan when the mission expires in 2009, military analysts said yesterday.

The federal Liberal party made a submission this week to the panel studying Canada’s future role in Afghanistan, headed by former finance minister John Manley.

In it, the party insisted Ottawa should formally notify NATO now of Canada’s intention to end its combat mission in Kandahar next year, contending it would be a “travesty” if the mission continued beyond February, 2009.

But experts warned yesterday that there is not enough time to safely replace the 2,500 Canadian troops in the region with soldiers from other NATO countries.

This “news” item is about a submission the federal Liberals made to a panel studying Canada’s role in Afghanistan. The Post reporter chose to focus on the opinion of “experts” who believe it is too soon to withdraw our troops. This jibes with the Conservative government’s view that Canada’s should keep its troops in Afghanistan until progress is made, no matter how long it takes. And we all know how “right” the Post is.

Now take a look at how the Toronto Star reported on the same item:

`Travesty’ to extend combat role: Liberals

Canada should remain committed to Afghanistan but the current combat mission in Kandahar must end in just over a year, federal Liberals say.

Canada should instead look at other roles for the military, such as training the Afghan National Army and police, protecting Afghan civilians or leading reconstruction efforts, the party said in a paper released yesterday.

“We believe Canada and the rest of the world have an obligation to the people of Afghanistan,” the Liberal party says in its submission to the federal panel now studying the future of Canada’s Afghan mission.

And in a news release accompanying the document, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said he’s open to “other possible military roles in Afghanistan.”

But the party says it would be a “travesty” to continue the current military role in Kandahar under the guise of a “training mission.”

Instead, the Liberals say, the Conservatives must immediately inform NATO that Canada will end its Kandahar mission in February 2009, adding that as long as allies believe the mission is “open-ended, they will never prepare for our departure.”

The Star focused on the viewpoint of the Liberals, who want an early withdrawl of our troops. This isn’t surprising, given the Star‘s leftist/Liberal leanings. The point I am trying to make is this: there is no real objectivity in the media. While this is hardly new information it has made me think of how obvious it is and how it doesn’t matter anymore. With the technology available to us, we have access to raw information and can arrive at our own conclusions instead of having it spoon-fed to us. We can also draw from a huge pool of opinions regarding the latest issues and decide which ones appeal to us. (For the record, I like mine with a little satire and Jon Stewart’s snarky, sexy grin.)

In the early term of George W. Bush’s presidency, the traditional media was shameless in their unwavering, hyperpatriotic support of the war in Iraq (“Bush Lies, Media Swallows“, Eric Alterman, The Nation). The dearth of coverage on any opposing viewpoints and the growing savvy of the public (or more so the left-leaning intelligentsia) has led to the rise of citizen journalism (or “new media” as some call it).

It would negligent for me as a future communicator to ignore this. If the role of public relations is to “…establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom its success or failure depend” (Center and Broom, Effective Public Relations), then giving little credence to the “new media” would be inviting disaster. There are numerous examples of how the “little guy” brought down “the man” (or anchorman, in Dan Rather’s case) and it’s not going to end, folks. All of which leads me to believe that when Time named their 2006 Person of the Year as you, they confirmed what we all know: opinions are like a–holes – everyone’s got one. And they will blog about it. And the world will notice.

Jon Stewart


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Welcome to my blog.

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bon mot [bon moh; Fr. bawn moh] a witty remark or comment; clever saying; witticism.

Why, hello there. Thanks for dropping by. This is my first foray into the exciting world of social media. Oooh, my extremities are already tingling. You must have many questions for me, such as “What do you have to say that is so important?” or “What do you have to say that isn’t being said by millions of other bloggers?” or “What are you wearing?” Good questions. My answer? Probably not much. (Har har.) But since I am advancing my career in the communications and p.r. industry it is on good advice from experts that I start a blog as a form of personal advertisement. Thus, I will blog.

A little about me: click on the About tab. It’s pretty much all there.

So, what can I add? Well, my mother certainly thinks I’m brilliant (smart woman, she is) and my friends tell me I’m funny (leaning heavily on the “ha ha” sort rather than the “weird” so that’s a good sign) so I’m hoping to bring a different perspective on life and its perversities. But I think my “angle” will focus on the fact that I am returning to school. What’s the big deal about that? Well, let me tell you why it’s a big deal:

  • I’m in my late thirties and just gave up a full-time job with four weeks vacation, an expense account and health benefits.
  • The last time I composed an essay it was done on a typewriter. An electric one, mind you, but there is no Spellcheck on typewriters. Actually, that is not true – I did compose an essay on a computer. In Word Perfect, DOS version.
  • I have a fear I may become Jerri Blank from Strangers with Candy, trying to fit into a world she long escaped from. Will my low-rise jeans be low enough? Should I buy the pink or baby blue Uggs? Is my crush on Zac Efron so, like, over (yes, I know he is half my age and probably gay, so shut up) or should I be pinning magazine clippings of the Gossip Girl cast to my locker?

I’m kidding, of course (well, mostly kidding). But you get my drift – I am in for a completely different experience than the one I have been living for the past 15 years in the workforce. It will be a fun and exciting time for me and I hope to regale you with tales from the (school) front. But mostly I would like to share my perspective on communications and public relations from someone who has been in the industry for the past nine years on the other (darker) side. Coming from CNW (the nation’s leader in- oops! Sorry, I sometimes forget I don’t work there anymore) I have been exposed to the needs of the communicator and the media. Will this give me a head start? Here’s hoping.

Which leads me to another reason to blog: social media is new media and acquiring membership in the web and blog community puts you far ahead of the rest. For those naysayers (and there are some in the industry, believe me) here’s a cool fact: There are now one million users on Facebook from Toronto alone (The Toronto Star, Jan. 2/08); we are the first North American city to achieve this goal.

I have several friends who post news and information on their profile – in other words, there Facebook profile is their blog. There are others who get their news and information from the web. (When is the last time you used a map instead of Google Maps, Mapquest or GPS? I thought so.) The 2008 presidential election will be run pretty much through YouTube and candidate blogs. (Of course, I prefer getting my news on U.S. politics with a side of cynicism (I miss you, The Daily Show) but I digress. Today’s journalists are not only writing for the print and electronic versions of their papers but are producing video content as well. Information is becoming more accessible than it was before. This means there are new ways to communicate outside of the standard news release and press conference and the web is the new place to look.

The web is also the new soapbox. Bloggers are people who have something to say and a powerful tool with which to shout it from the mountaintops. Case in point: Dell Hell (Jeff Jarvis vs. Dell: Blogger’s Complaint Becomes Viral Nightmare”, Online Media Daily, August 2005) and other p.r. horror stories. As a future communicator, I would be doing a disservice to myself and my future employers by not being aware of social media.

I can go on and on but my point is this: the web is not going away; it is getting stronger and more influential; and those who have embraced it will reap the rewards. Kind of like composing an essay on a laptop versus a typewriter.

Stay tuned for more…

Jerri Blank


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