Thoughts on Life and The Awesomeness of College

It’s official…I’m a college graduate! On May 10 I walked across the stage and had the opportunity to celebrate with my family and friends. It was such a bittersweet day. Although I’m sad to see college career come to an end, I’m excited to take the next steps in my career.

Let the future begin!

Let the future begin!

As we all know, college isn’t just about the books. There are so many life lessons the college experience teaches so well. Here are five of my favorites:

1. If you want to achieve goals, make them happen…starting now.

The summer before I went to college, my church’s youth pastor and his wife coached me on college readiness to help prepare me as much as possible for life as a college student. One of the most valuable pieces of wisdom they shared with me was that if I wanted to instill a new habit, I had to start as soon as I arrived to campus or as soon as my semester started. If not, busyness and routine would take over and any hopes of accomplishing that goal would most likely slip through the cracks.

This was GREAT advice. Right when I got to college, I set aside the time I needed to reach my goals, such as going to the gym, staying in touch with family and friends and practicing (I was a music major at the time).

As I plan out what my life will look like in the future, I know it will be more of a challenge to set good habits, as more responsibilities add up. However, it isn’t impossible and achieving goals is important no matter what stage of life I’m in.

2. Mom and Dad are cool.

There’s this shift that happens usually right before high school ends or halfway through the first year of college where mom and dad are suddenly cool! When I left for college I remember being excited to be on my own, but every time my parents made the trip up to Denton for the weekend I was always very excited to spend time with them.

Not only are they cool but also smart, contrary to what my teenage self credited them. I’m thankful that my parents were so involved in my college experience. My mom basically knew more than my advisors and quickly became a pro at helping me plan out my schedules so I could graduate with a degree and a half in four years. I’ve grown rather close to my parents, as I should. They’re the only ones I have.

3. Detours are sometimes the best things that can happen to you. 

I was a double major in music and public relations my first and second years of college. I knew I loved music and also knew I loved to write, although I wasn’t exactly sure I knew what PR was quite yet. As a music student I participated in music ensembles, took lessons and learned theory and music history at one of the most prestigious music schools in the nation. I really enjoyed it, but quickly saw my passion fading after hours on top of hours of practicing and struggling through my music theory assignments.

I finally came to a point where I had to choose. PR won and I’ve never regretted that decision, nor have I regretted the time spent making music at the University of North Texas. Some of my closest friends were made through the marching band and some of my favorite memories were in the music building and performance hall.

4. You don’t have to be the smartest to stand out.

I was honored as the Outstanding PR Student of the Year at the journalism banquet in May, an award chosen by the Mayborn School of Journalism’s faculty. It was a very exciting moment, that’s for sure.

A lot of people who congratulated me said things like, “Wow! You must make really good grades!” The truth is I’ve never been an extremely academic person. I worked VERY hard to make good grades in school, which paid off in the end, but certainly wasn’t a walk in the park for me as it was for some of my friends growing up.

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2014 Outstanding Public Relations Student in the Department of Strategic Communications at UNT

I think the key to being successful and standing out is hard work and being passionate about what you do. During my college career I had seven different internships, was the president of UNT’s Chapter of PRSSA and was the kind of person who attended networking events and watched webinars on her days off. People would always comment on how busy I seemed, but I was just doing what I think is fun! Those internships and tough classes flew by because I absolutely love what I do.

As my youngest sister and cousin graduate from high school this year I sincerely hope they fall in love with their major as I did. It makes college (an life)THAT more awesome and rewarding.

5. Friendships are a gift, not a guarantee

After I graduated high school I started to lose touch with some of people I considered best friends during middle or high school. It was sad at first, but as I changed and grew, my old friends were changing and growing too.

These two drove four hours to come see me graduate! Lindsay (left) has been a best friend of mine for 11 years and Kelsey (right) is a friend I met my freshman year. She transferred to UT Austin for nursing school, but we have stayed close ever since :)

These two drove four hours to come see me graduate! Lindsay (left) has been a best friend of mine for 11 years and Kelsey (right) is a friend I met my freshman year. She transferred to UT Austin for nursing school, but we have stayed close ever since 🙂

There are several friendships I have that have lasted more than ten years, but college taught me the value of learning when to fight for those friendships and when to let go to make room for others. Letting go of friendships is bittersweet, but I can’t think of a time where new friendships weren’t blossoming. I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and as I’ve grown older, I’ve been even more thankful for these gifts and realized that they are blessings that I am not entitled to.

Here are some of the friends that made college such a wonderful time in my life:

This month I’ll be moving to Dallas, standing by one of the friends I’ve known the longest as she marries the man of her dreams, starting the next chapter in my career and vacationing with my family in Boston. I’ll miss the ability to plan my own schedule, nap times between classes and exciting intern adventures as a college student, but I’m so excited to see what the future has in store.

“ Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” – Proverbs 19:21

What are your favorite things about your college experience?

“A Tweet Away From Being Fired”

Free speech means you can say what you want, right?

Not without consequences—a painful lesson PR pro Justine Sacco learned last December when she tweeted what many people labeled “racist” and “insensitive.”

Her tweet is pictured below:

Justine Sacco tweet

Shortly after she boarded her plane in London, the tweet went viral. While she was unavailable on her flight to South Africa, her company fired her, Twitter users mocked her with the hash tag #HasJustineLandedYet and reporters waited to interview her at the airport in South Africa. Needless to say, she was embarrassed and ashamed. It didn’t take her long to post an apology, but her name now carries the weight of her costly mistake.

As one of “The Five” on Fox said, “We are all one tweet away from being fired.”

Note that Sacco was never arrested or fined by the government for what she tweeted. The First Amendment protected her rights to free speech, but just because there was no legal action involved doesn’t mean there were no consequences. In addition, she was a PR professional, which should imply an expertise in reputation management. When she landed in South Africa she had to some reputation management of her own to handle.

The First Amendment allows U.S. citizens:

  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of the press
  • Freedom of assembly
  • Right to petition

These are all beautiful rights to have and we are fortunate to be entitled to our own opinions, practice whatever religions we choose and protest. In the case above, Sacco was allowed to tweet essentially whatever she wanted, but obviously suffered consequences.

This freedom is not the same in every country. In the UK, social media users can be prosecuted for what they say online. According to The Daily Beast, for example, a Staffordshire man was arrested and had his computer confiscated for a tasteless Mandela joke. (I’ll let you look that one up.) Furthermore, the article states that, “In the United Kingdom, it is now the police’s remit to protect communities and individuals from “alarm,” “distress,” and “offense.”” Is this method of enforcement taking things a step too far? Possibly, but it can be argued that our current world is one where what is said on social media is amplified in a way that has a broader impact than just sticks and stones.

Take Paul Chambers, for example. Brian Solis explains in a blog post how this 27-year-old Twitter user got into some legal trouble with a recent tweet in 2010 that essentially threatened to blow up the airport. Whether or not his tweet was taken out of context, it isn’t okay to even hint at taking action that might threaten the lives of others. This is no different than yelling about a bomb at an airport or yelling, “fire” in a movie theater. We have freedom of speech and “Freedom of Tweet” as Solis calls it, but when what we say might infer a risk to someone’s life, there’s a good chance legal action will be taken. He was fined, faced conviction and also lost his job.

Our First Amendment rights should be celebrated, but with rights come great responsibility, especially as a public relations professional or organization. As PR pros we are expected to value ethical use of advocacy, honesty, expertise, fairness, independence, loyalty and fairness, according to the PRSA Code of Ethics.

Tweeting anything that might be racist, unfair or dishonest most likely reflects poorly on your company, not just you. And besides, what can you gain by saying something that might be hurtful to someone else?

It all comes down to professionalism and respect. No one wants to hire a PR person that can’t even maintain their own image, much less, their client’s.

Know your resources

work hard and be nice

Image from behance.net

Know the PRSA Code of Ethics and stay current with industry news because with the nature of social media it can be easy to forget the impact words can have on others. In addition, many companies have values or specific Code of Ethics for employees to know and practice. Some companies even have a social media policy, which can be helpful.

Value diversity

Many of the people called out for what they’ve tweeted have been accused of being racist or ignorant. It’s so important to value diversity because diversity is everywhere. It’s not wrong to be different and although no one can possibly agree with everything, it’s still important to be respectful and objective, even on personal social media accounts.

ALWAYS think before you post

It seems silly to remind people to think before using social media, but everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes on Twitter are now more costly than ever. Always think about what you say and how it can impact others before tweeting or posting online.

Although we are each one tweet away from losing our jobs, it’s important not to see this as a limitation, but instead a protection for our employers, our profession and even our own credibility.

PR Needs Better PR

One morning as I was walking to class I noticed I was walking the same pace as a young man headed in the same direction. We smiled awkwardly and continued on. Finally he looked over my way, laughed and introduced himself. After I introduced myself to him he asked what my major is. I was not expecting what happened next.

 “Public relations? People like you are the reason the government and media are so corrupt,” he yelled. “I hope you have fun making the world a worse place someday,” and he stormed off (After throwing in a few expletives).

 The rest of the day I sat at my desk wrestling with his harsh words. Although there’s a chance he had no idea what he was talking about, he has a point. Ironically, pubic relations needs better public relations.

Why Ethics?

The reason PR is lacking a positive reputation boils down to one word: Ethics.

Ethics are capable of building up someone’s identity in a positive way or capsizing it, drowning any hopes of a successful future.  Poor ethical choices can tear away a person’s privacy and swap a tailored Armani suit for an orange jumpsuit. Even if the poor decision never comes to the surface, the guilty person or party will suffer a clouded conscience and live in fear of being found out. Misguided ethics can lead to joblessness and in some cases, infamy. There is tremendous power in choices.

PR crises are a dime a dozen and many ex-professionals (or current pros who have managed to salvage what’s left of their reputation) are victims of their own poor ethical choices. Identity is a delicate thing.

I admit…many of the real-life ethical breaches brought up in my ethics and media law class happened well before my time. I was not as familiar with some of them as I knew I should be. I decided to research more about each case. As I began, I noticed something interesting. Before the name of the company/person was fully spelled out in the Google search bar, I knew almost exactly what area of ethics had been violated.

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When an individual makes unethical choices that are brought to light, they weave new words into their identity. Personal branding is a real thing and when someone’s identity is paired with words such as “scandal,” and “plagiarism,” I think it’s safe to say that the outcome isn’t good.

Ethical practice not only helps businesses stay out of trouble, but it also allows for peace of mind that comes with a clear conscience. Pubic relations can only be properly practiced with credibility, which is reinforced by good ethics. If there’s no credibility, there’s no business.

Proceed With Caution

Although there are situations where ethics are black and white, oftentimes there’s a grey area between what is ethical and unethical.

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Just because something is legal does not mean that it is ethical, and just because something is ethical does not mean it’s also credible.

The diagram to the right illustrates that what is ethical, credible and legal are connected but separate. Just because something is legal does not mean that it is ethical, and just because something is ethical does not mean it’s also credible. It is not uncommon for PR practitioners to be asked to do something questionable by persons of authority. It’s important to have a plan for these situations to ensure that the ethical, legal and credible decision will be made.  Sometimes this can involve standing up for what is right—maybe even at the expense of your job.

A decision-making model from Trust, Inc. advises the following steps when confronting an ethical dilemma:

L- Learn everything you can

  • What are the key facts and data?
  • What outcome is important?
  • Which laws/policies/codes apply? (Always keep the PRSA Code of Ethics handy)
  • What raises an ethical red flag?
  • Who are the stakeholders?

E- Evaluate your options

  • Level 1: If all stakeholders agree, move ahead
  • Level 2: When it’ s not that simple…
  • Consult a mentor for a fresh perspective
  • Identify key consequences

A-  Access your intuition

  • Can you sleep at night knowing you made a certain decision?
  • What would your mother think about said decision?
  • As my professor says, “how would you feel if your decisions today were tomorrow’s headlines?”

P- Put your decision into action

  • Time to act
  • Evaluate

No matter what decision you make, always:

  • Be honest
  • Be respectful
  • Be transparent

It’s important to be educated on ethics because a snap decision during a crisis can have negative consequences. Stay up to date on current issues and put yourself in the shoes of professionals in crisis. In addition, it’s important to be educated on the code of ethics for your company or industry to have an idea of, and prepare for, issues that could arise.

With my college graduation on the horizon, I am working hard to be prepared to face anything that might come my way during my professional career. I know PR has a long way to go when it comes to having a positive reputation in the public eye, but I fully intend to do my part in reversing the stigma. This might be a challenge, but in the end I hope I can say I’ve left a positive mark on the profession.

Anyone Can Be an Alchemist

I visited an agency about a year ago and met an insightful account executive who recommended Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist when I asked her for reading recommendations. I finally had time to read it during my time off from school and work during the holidays and I’m glad I did. Although it didn’t directly pertain to PR, it provided inspiration that easily applied to my career and life in general.

The Alchemist is a story of a young boy, Santiago, who embarks on a mission to find his treasure. Along the way, he falls into snares and consequences of naivety, makes immense sacrifices, finds and loses love, and learns life lessons from an infamous alchemist.

As I read The Alchemist, several major themes kept returning:

1. Find your Personal Legend

This book placed an emphasis on chasing after your dreams.  Santiago was on a mission to find his life’s purpose. As many others can relate, Santiago didn’t always know his personal legend and reason for life. If you don’t know, that’s okay. Part of the fun is discovering that one thing that makes you happy and makes you different from anyone else on earth. Are you hoping to discover your personal legend this year? The beauty of this concept is that making a decision is only the beginning of a lifelong journey that can be extraordinarily rewarding.

What are you most excited about in life?

2. Don’t fear the desert

In The Alchemist, Santiago took a journey through the Sahara Desert to go to the pyramids, where he believed the treasure was buried. This was an apprehensive time in his journey. The caravan through the desert was long and dangerous and at times Santiago was tempted to give up.

Sometimes your life’s calling will require you to take a detour. Instead of feeling inconvenienced by these perceived setbacks, see them as opportunities– even in the midst of suffering. You might be thinking, “That sounds a lot easier than it is.” Coelho cleverly wrote, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself… No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” You’re not alone in the desert and when you reach an oasis or your final destination you will be reminded of life’s blessings and be thankful for life in and of itself.

What are you most afraid of? Why?

“Immerse yourself in the desert. You don’t even have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a single grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.”

3. “Where your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” 

During Santiago’s journey, he finds a beautiful woman and falls in love. She tells Santiago to follow his heart and find his treasure, and then he can come back and they will be together. I admired this selfless aspect of love because she wanted him to pursue his dreams enough to let him go.

As Coehlo wrote, “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

How can you do a better job of loving your family, significant other or coworkers?

Life is Golden 

The alchemist book

Add this one to your booklist.

I admit… when I picked up this book I wasn’t really sure what an alchemist was, but now that I’ve finished this book I understand that life is less about a treasure hunt than transforming what you see as lead to gold.

Would you say your life is more like lead or gold?

Although life will never be perfect, it’s rewarding to follow after your personal legend even if it means you’ll have to travel through a desert for a while. You have everything you need right now to see your life as the sparkling gold it is.

“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”- Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

In the Driver’s Seat

Used car shopping has consumed the past few weeks of my life. After days of research, phone calls and dealership visits I decided what make, color, price and mileage I wanted. After spending nearly every second of my free time looking at cars online and evaluating all the options in my price range, I finally found the one.

The red, four-door Mazda6 I found was the car of my dreams. It was beautiful and sleek and looked like exactly what I hoped would be my next car. Unfortunately, it was a little over 100 miles from my apartment, which was the only problem I could see from the profile online. My parents, who faithfully guided me down the path to purchasing my first “big girl” car drove up to visit the dealership with me.

We pulled into the lot and there it was, glittering in the sun. The car salesman handed me the keys and I hurriedly unlocked the door and sat in the driver’s seat. Before I even put the keys in the ignition I couldn’t help but realize the car reeked of cigarette smoke.

“I can get past that,” I thought as I decided to overlook the scuffs on the passenger seat as well. It drove well, but I wasn’t fond of the fact that it didn’t have automatic windows or locks, a complaint I had about my previous car. The last straw was the check engine light that came on, which the salesman couldn’t explain.

I drove it back to the dealership, a little saddened that we had come all this way to visit my dream car and it wasn’t much of a dream after all. Letting go of my “non-negotiables” allowed me to see the striking blue Toyota Corolla, which was parked right next to the Mazda that I hadn’t even noticed when I arrived.

Car shopping is a lot like job seeking. Buying a car is a lot of work and takes a lot of preparation. The experience was a little stressful, but totally worth it in the end. Here’s how I found that the process related to job seeking:

  1. It’s important to research your options: How can you know what you want if you don’t know what’s out there? As a job seeker, it’s a good idea to know what you want and to develop reasonable expectations. Besides, in PR research skills are essential.
  2. Communicate effectively: In public relations, communication skills are essential. When buying a car, it’s also important to be a good communicator and ask the right questions. How will you know your dream car is really what you’re looking for if you don’t know how to read between the lines and ask the right questions? It’s not just about verbal communication, though. Nonverbal cues say a lot about you as well. If you go to test drive a vehicle and you seem desperate, they will pick up on it. That is the same for interviews. No one wants to hire a desperate jobseeker. Relax and be confident. It’ll work out better for everyone that way.
  3. Know how to negotiate: Sometimes it’s okay to negotiate your salary just like it’s okay to negotiate the price of a car. Be reasonable and know when it’s a good time if you’re planning on negotiating your salary. It can be a slippery slope, but negotiating skills will take you far.
  4. Invest in your future: Car salesmen won’t sell you a car if you have bad credit. Similarly, you won’t get a job in PR if your portfolio is lacking. As a student it’s important to develop your skills and showcase them in your portfolio. It will pay off during interviews.
  5. Dream Big: It’s okay to dream! Just like I imagined myself driving down the highway in a shiny red Mazda it’s okay to imagine yourself as a VP in the corner suite. However, dreams without a plan are just dreams. If you really want something, you have to be willing to do the legwork or save the money to get there. It’s okay to start off as an intern after graduation and work your way up. Everyone has to start somewhere.
  6. When all else fails, remember this too shall pass: Just like any car will eventually be worn out and you’ll have to buy another one, most employees don’t stay at the same job for their entire career. In the beginning we build up the moment of that test drive, carefully observing the features and weighing the cost just like we view the job description, interviews, salary and benefits. From the outside everything may seem perfect, but it doesn’t matter how cool your car looks if the engine falls out. All in all, perspective is an important consideration. The point of a car is to get from A to B. Similarly, the point of a job is to pay the bills. It’s fun to add in challenges, a stimulating work environment and even a cushy salary, but let’s not elevate work (or a car) into something it shouldn’t be.

I could’ve driven off the lot with that sporty, red Mazda that day, and I probably would’ve been happy with my purchase for a while, but eventually I’d have to figure out what was wrong with the engine and maybe even try to scrub out the stains on the seats. This story has a happy ending though. After a few hours of negotiating and filling out paperwork I drove off the lot with my new-to-me Toyota Corolla. It’s not the car I’m planning on driving forever, but for now it’s absolutely perfect.

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I named him Blue Steel.

Five Steps to a Perfect Online Portfolio

In the digital age, technical and web skills have become more and more important in the world of public relations. In college, students are taught the importance of developing a resume and portfolio. Although a tangible portfolio is required, digital portfolios are becoming essential in standing out in a competitive field.

Lately I’ve been spending time developing and experimenting with my digital portfolio and have learned some things the hard way, but I’m happy with the end result. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1. Develop a vision.

Create goals to guide you through the process before you start working on your portfolio. When I first started, I didn’t really know what I wanted and ended up making a list of links displaying my work on my WordPress blog. After months of reorganizing and including photos, I finally decided I wanted something more visually appealing. After a lot of research, I decided on Wix.com because it had a lot to offer.

2. Find the key pieces you want to highlight.

As I was sorting through my portfolio, I chose a theme that highlighted projects. This outlined a simple way to sort my portfolio pieces by internship or media outlet. I found this helpful in explaining my experience. Remember, you’re telling a story. It’s important to remember that in choosing key pieces to highlight your online portfolio.

3. Don’t post anything that may be confidential.

Although your internship might give you opportunities to create awesome media plans or detailed projects, it’s important to take your employer’s confidentiality into consideration before publishing documents online. If you aren’t sure, ask your employer. He or she will probably respect that you value the privacy of the company.

 4. Give credit where credit is due.

In public relations, projects are often collaborative. In your online portfolio, don’t take credit for design if you wrote the copy. Make sure to include descriptions of what you did and what you learned. Full disclosure is the most ethical route to take and will pay off in the long run.

5. Don’t let your hard work go to waste!

Online portfolios are hard work. When you’re done, don’t let your portfolio sit around on the Internet. Most sites have options for analytics or can be monitored in one way or another. Wix.com has SEO options that will help you reach your target online audience more effectively and market yourself. Insert hyperlinks to increase search-ability and make sure to include a link on your business card, Twitter account and LinkedIn. Buying your own domain name is also another way to strengthen your personal brand. Payment plans vary, but are generally pretty affordable for young professionals hoping to put themselves out there.

I’m not an expert by any means, but my portfolio can be found online at www.laurenfrock.com.