Thursday, May 28, 2020

How to Make the Most of an Internship, Even During a Pandemic

Taking on an internship is a great opportunity to get a feel for a company or industry early in your career. Nothing can replace real-world experience! But when disruptions occur, such as our current global pandemic, flexibility will become your greatest asset. As an intern, it’s your job to be curious. Transitioning your internship from in-office to remote is a great opportunity to build skills and demonstrate your commitment to growth despite unpredictable events.

While you might not be in the office to ask questions or join team meetings, there are important strategies you can embrace to stay connected, inquisitive and engaged.

Stay Organized, Stay Engaged.
Working from home can be challenging when you haven’t done it before. Staying organized is the first step to staying on top of project deadlines and demonstrating the ability to manage time. Take 10 minutes each morning to map out your day; prioritize your tasks, establish goals and block off time for meetings or webinars. By staying organized, you will be more efficient and more engaged in day-to-day tasks.

Create and Stick-to a Routine.
Going from commuting every day to working in your living room is a significant transition. However, taking the time to get ready as if you still are going to the office is key. Go for a morning walk, make your coffee and put on a new outfit. Learning how to work on a nine to five schedule solo is just as important as clocking in. Sticking to a normal routine will help you stay refreshed and focused.

Build Virtual Relationships with Coworkers.
Just because you can’t chat with coworkers in person doesn’t mean you can’t stay connected. Using online tools, like Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business or Zoom, is a great way to maintain a sense of informal communication outside of email. As an intern, you are likely one of the newest staff members. Joining virtual staff events, like Zoom happy hours, are a fun way to get to know your coworkers and talk about things outside of work. For professional development, schedule a weekly touch-base meeting with your mentor or advisor. This is a great way to check-in on projects, goals and questions during your internship

Embrace Uncertainty.
Displaying flexibility and enthusiasm will keep you on track to successfully completing your internship. Embrace the opportunity to learn new skills remotely, especially in the digital age. Adapting to a new work environment with a positive attitude demonstrates commitment and dedication to your projects, clients and coworkers. After all, this is a new experience for everyone.

Yes, And...
While your workflow may be unpredictable as the economy fluctuates, let your team and mentor know you are ready to tackle new projects. Every new assignment is an opportunity to learn about a client, an opportunity to work with new staff members and to develop new skills. Saying “yes,” even if the assignment is out of your comfort zone, will help determine your strengths and weaknesses.

While navigating uncertain times during your internship, remind yourself that with the right attitude you can grow, learn and leave a lasting impression. Especially in public relations, adapting to crisis is part of the job. Embrace new challenges during your internship and stay enthusiastic about the opportunities that lie ahead. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Writing During COVID-19

Navigating the present coronavirus crisis means working through the unknown every single day. Part of our jobs as PR professionals is to anticipate the unexpected and prepare appropriate messaging for the given context, but how do we ensure our focus remains on problem solving and not selling during a crisis? How do we manage existing campaigns without being insensitive, and how do we respond to a negative situation appropriately, all while remaining ‘on-brand’?

These were all questions running through my mind before I had the pleasure of remotely attending a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) webinar featuring Ann Wylie of Wylie Communications on tips for PR writing during a crisis. Below are a few of my favorite takeaways on how to write effectively during COVID-19 (or any crisis):

Write with compassion.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are writing for. Make sure the tone is appropriate for the context of the occasion and audience and does not come off as insensitive. Think about it this way—it’s not about ME, it’s about WE. Read over your work and count the ratios of I/You, Me/We to ensure the focus is on the audience.

Write confidently.
During a crisis, it is especially important to communicate early and communicate often. Being proactive instead of reactive can help unify your message and show ownership and understanding of the situation. It’s okay to say you don’t know something instead of not addressing it at all – silence can be misinterpreted. Just make sure you have the credibility, authority and stakeholder permission to say what you’re saying.

Write clearly.
Everyone is stressed right now. Nobody has the time or attention span to read a dense article amidst the constant steam of COVID-19 news right now, especially those on the frontlines. A good rule of thumb in life and in writing is to simply get to the point. Cut through the clutter by streamlining sentences and paragraphs. Pro tip: The ‘sweet spot’ for sentence understanding is 14 words. Try Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics feature for helpful info on the readability and clarity of your content.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, remember to be compassionate in your work. The most important thing in as communicators in a crisis is to be there to support your clients’ needs. We are all in this together!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Finding Unity Amidst Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented sentiment of unity within Chicago, across the country and around the globe. One member of our team, group manager Lindsey Lucenta, is making an impact in her neighborhood during this time of crisis, with a vision that far exceeds the scope and reach of the virus itself.

Q: How did you get involved with the Chicago mutual aid effort?
In mid-March, I reached out to offer my time by filling out an online form to volunteer with a newly started Chicago mutual aid network. There were over 400 people in my neighborhood, Logan Square, who also offered to lend a hand. Given this massive interest, we created the hyper-local Logan Square Mutual Aid. In less than two months, we are now part of a city-wide mutual aid effort, organized neighborhood by neighborhood. With a ‘neighbor-helping-neighbor’ mentality, we are building an infrastructure that encourages community members to play a role in fulfilling the essential needs created during the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent shelter-in-place orders.

Q: What is the goal of your chapter?
To help people who are struggling during COVID. We focus on helping the vulnerable – the elderly, the disabled, those with immuno-deficiencies. Given this wide-reaching scope, we have several teams which each focusing on specific community needs – including food, healthcare and social work, to name a few. Everything from helping individuals get groceries, to offering legal services to those who need assistance as tenants.

Q: What does your specific role look like?
I’m the food distribution coordinator. My role is to oversee local business outreach to secure donations, track inventory, train volunteers, and coordinate delivery of food boxes to individual and families. Primarily, we’re collecting food during the week, then distributing on the weekends. We recently secured a storage space with refrigerators and tables (a big win!), and a few Chicago alderman have donated PPE to ensure we follow safety protocol. As we grow, we plan to equip our space to handle larger donations and more food deliveries.

 Q: Who did you turn to for best practices on sanitation and facility health?
We’ve partnered with Food Not Bombs, an organization that works with the food service industry to collect what would otherwise be wasted food. However, as many restaurants have closed, their normal supply chain has been cut off. So we have been collaborating on best practices to secure large-scale or ongoing food donations from Chicago businesses and residents. I volunteered with them to learn their processes for sanitization, food packaging and delivery During the pandemic, constant cleaning of supplies and hand washing is essential. And, thanks to our collaboration, we were able to secure the aforementioned storage space.

Q: How have you seen the ‘neighbor-helping-neighbor’ concept come to life?
It’s really a concept of ‘solidarity, not charity,’ which is the cornerstone of the mutual aid movement. Some of the core values that we model our structure on are engagement, transparency and self-determination. For example, we have neighbors who are receiving groceries each week due to economic hardship as a result of the pandemic. Simultaneously, these same individuals also have cars or bikes and have volunteered their time and vehicles to deliver groceries. We have had hundreds of individuals who have offered to buy groceries for their neighbors out of their own pocket. We’re now obtaining the funds to pay them back, but the selflessness and graciousness has been so inspirational.

Q: What is the vision for Logan Square Mutual Aid looking past the pandemic?
I definitely see our organization evolving to meet community needs. Even after the virus is no longer an immediate threat, the economic effect is going to be residual. I am honored to be surrounded by so many intelligent, passionate people who are working together to build a grassroots, community-driven organization that directly serves our neighborhood.

Thank you for all you do, both for your community and LCWA! We’re excited to see our team making an impact.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Home Is Where the Heart Is: Tips for Effectively (and Sensitively) Courting Consumers in the COVID-19 Era

This article was first published on Furniture World

It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has ignited increased interest among consumers in their homes. As most of us are spending much more time at home, we are seeing and experiencing our homes in news ways and finding ourselves with extra time to tackle improvements from DIY projects to major renovations. With that in mind, now is an ideal time to position relevant brands in front of a captive and eager audience with home-focused content.  

When it comes to brand marketing and public relations, however, it’s no longer business as usual. The consumer mindset has changed drastically, requiring brands to revisit messaging and re-think their communications strategies to adapt to the new and evolving environment in which we find ourselves living.  

In our work with many of today’s top home brands, we are helping them to navigate and adjust, as needed, to changes in the marketplace and in consumer lifestyles. Following are some insights and approaches that we have found to be effective for keeping home brands relevant and top-of-mind during this uncertain and unpredictable time: 

  • Position Brands for a New Way of Living – Focus on projects that help to make quarantine living more comfortable and enjoyable – everything from design and d├ęcor to organization, cleaning, safety and sanitation. Weave products into emerging lifestyle trends, such as segmenting home spaces in creative ways to accommodate working from home, inspiring new ways to cook or workout at home to keep things fresh and fun, and ideas for games or other activities to help keep family members entertained, occupied and safe.  

  • Instill Confidence – Share ideas for simple, cost-effective upgrades that add value to a home and that consumers can tackle confidently without needing a lot of expertise or assistance. When possible, provide video or step-by-step guidance to help DIYers approach projects knowledgeably and confidently. 

  • Pitch New Channels  Once a cumbersome and expensive endeavor, TV exposure is now easier to coordinate no matter where your spokesperson and influencers are located thanks to Zoom, Skype and other video conferencing services. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, local and national stations alike have turned to remote reporting so it’s still possible – and actually easier – to book segments (both live and taped) or conduct virtual media toursIt’s also a great time to explore online media outlets, as well as home-focused blogs and influencers you may not have previously targeted. 

  • Update Social Media Presence and Content  Consumers are spending much more time these days on their computers and mobile devices, making it crucial for brands to find ways to engage customers via social media and other online channels. Depending on the brand or service offering, aim to provide information that can help people stay healthy mentally, physically and financially. Maintain authenticity and review all content through a hyper-sensitive lens. 

  • Drive Online Sales Opportunities – During these times of social distancing, businesses and consumers are relying more than ever on e-commerce. Successful brands will be those that make it easy for consumers to find, select, purchase and receive products and services. Work with clients to optimize online ordering, offer virtual appointments and sales calls to replace on-site visits, and update websites to add home or curbside deliveriesDoing so may require an investment in new systems and technologies – but the dividends will be worth it in the long run. 

As we continue to traverse a rapidly changing landscape, brand communications and marketing efforts will require careful and continual refinement. Take time to audit key messaging for sensitivity and make updates as needed. Ensure that all key stakeholders are updated and aligned with any changes and communicating consistently and with one brand voice. 

While these are certainly challenging times for everyone, brands in the home arena are facing a unique opportunity to reach consumers and reinforce their relevance. By identifying the right messages and implementing smart, sensitive tactics, savvy marketers can positively position their brands and businesses for success in both the short- and long-term.