Mid-week nugget of wisdom

Lesson Learned: Refrain from responding next time someone on the elevator starts telling you all about their doctors appointment. Chances are they’re probably talking to their mom through a hands-free earpiece.

Reflections: Twenty-one floors is a long ride up.

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Posted by on June 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


The (Ambiguous) Rules of Office Etiquette

A degree in communications & PR encompasses a pretty standard curriculum. You take courses in news writing, ethics, campaigns, etc. But in my first couple weeks here, I’ve found that there’s a gap in our education. There’s a realm of knowledge that would perhaps be just as practical as the standard courses themselves, and applicable to most any major for that matter.

What they don’t teach you in school: Office etiquette.

Office etiquette is tricky for an up-and-comer because the environment is so unfamiliar. And the main difficulty is that the rule book is largely unwritten. Ideals of corporate courtesy seem to vary from office to office, and it’s my understanding that they’ve even evolved considerably over the past couple years. Sure, teachers and parents touch on appropriate behavior, but in all honestly, my generation’s main reference to office culture is Hollywood. Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute are our role models, and hopefully we recognize the satire of The Office enough to use them as contradictory examples. Is Pam really our only virtuous role model of office etiquette? I fear for my peers who overlook the show’s subtly satirical nature. Our universities better instate a more qualified reference and fast.

My approach has been to tread lightly until I can pick up on the particular office culture. I’ve made a few realizations, most of which are largely unfounded.

Refrigerator Rules
I was told my first day that you never take anything from the fridge that you didn’t put in there yourself, which I’ve always assumed to be a standard rule. Most people insure this law of protection with a name label, which let’s you know who will be seeking revenge should you choose to partake. Some name labels even bare a warning—Karen’s food: Don’t eat this, I spit in it.

And what are the rules on comdiments? Real-life dilemma: I brought a salad for lunch one day and forgot to bring dressing. I stood there and wondered… is it imprudent to borrow a tablespoon of someone else’s vinaigrette versus eating a bowl of dry lettuce? Do you think Karen really spits in her salad dressing? Does it matter, how desperate am I? We didn’t cover this in my course on PR ethics. For fear that Karen has somehow found my blog, I will not reveal my actions. *Names have been changed for my own protection.

I’ve found that if you’re observant, however, some things are discernably communal. If someone sets a box of cookies on the counter—or if more that 50 percent of the office is eating the same popsicles—then it’s probably safe for me to assume it’s shared.

And always dispose of degradable food. I had blackberry jam that spoiled once, but I think I threw it out before anyone noticed. The fridge is no place for a chia pet.

Alcohol banter
Happy hour is a common, joking theme around the office, so I’ve started to join in. It seems to be a playful way people cope with stress. If someone asks where a co-worker has gone, another employee may joke that they stepped out for a cocktail, etc.

But my question pertains to those beers in the company fridge: If everyone around here is only joking, why are we so well-stocked? Are there office parties I don’t know about? I fear I’m on the outer-circle…

More unanswered questions
—Can you really never bring tuna fish for lunch, or is that just a myth?
—I know you’re always suppose to knock before entering a co-worker’s office, but we have glass offices with no doors. Should I still knock? On what?
—Everyone keeps telling me my legs look a mile long: Compliment? Or latent suggestion that perhaps tomorrow I should wear a longer skirt?

Lessons Learned: …..

Reflections: Wait, is The Office a satire or a reality show? Now I’m unsure.

*most of the content was largely exaggerated and not specifically applicable to my office.

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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Ode to the slowpokes

Slowpoke (noun) :
Largely considered a nuisance here in the U.S, as they go against everything aggressive, speedy and “American.”

There’s probably one in each of your classes, and they’re always the last to turn in their test. There’s one in every family, who’s never ready when it’s time to leave. And they’re always in front of you in line, turning a simple Starbucks order into a five-minute struggle between a frappacino and a latte. (Then they probably change their mind mid-order).

Sadly, I’m guilty. On all three charges.

I’m a certified slowpoke—slow at everything from doing homework and household chores to brushing my teeth. My family says I’ve surpassed Grandma as the slowest eater on the planet, which is quite a feat. I suppose it’s the end of her 50-year era, and the start of my own.

So naturally when it comes to my work, I’m the same way. Slow as a tortoise.

There are two general causes for slowness. One is just laziness, the other is rare breed of Type-A personalities (that’s me). I’m very thorough and methodical, thus I prefer to take my time. You could call me a planner with a perfectionist streak. My biggest enemies are timed tests and sudden deadlines. I just dislike being rushed.

I know what you’re thinking… My disposition does not sound very compatible to PR. Afterall this is an industry that’s centered around immediacy, deadlines and unforseen crises, right?

Don’t think this hasn’t crossed my mind once or twice while I’ve been deciding what to do with the rest of my life. It’s important to think about the demands of your profession and whether you’ll be able to meet them on a daily basis.

But there’s something most people don’t know about Type-A slowpokes: There’s only one thing they love more than ample time, details and control, and that’s a challenge.

Let’s say I’m at work, and my boss gives me an hour to complete an assignment that usually takes me two hours. As she’s explaining the deadline, my heart skips a beat. How on earth am I going to be able to finish on-time?

To jerk me out of my everyday, leisurely pace, there has to be some sort of stimulus. When I’m taking a test, it’s the five-minute warning. At home, it’s my dad telling me I have 20 minutes to be showered, packed and in the car. Or it’s the end-of-day announcement that Starbucks is now closing (Noooo!).

It sets in a state of panic, and the consequences of failure become my motivation. The fear of failing my test drives me to knock out the last 10 questions. The worry of missing the family beach vacation (and the wrath of Mr. Punctual) ensures that my tushy is downstairs in the car, with wet hair and a purse full of clothes. And I make a snap decision on the non-fat mocha latte. Otherwise, I get no coffee at all, and that would be tragic.

When I’m at work, that stimulus is a deadline.

As my boss leaves my office, I catch my breath. The consequences of not completing my assignment would include failing to do my job and displeasing my employer (and I can’t let those things happen). And just like all the panic-striken senarios above, the challenge flips a switch, and I pour all my concentration into that small time frame. Each time I begin to drift back into my leisurely pace, I make myself work a little faster, focus a little harder. And somehow, I get it done without a second to spare.

At that point I may have to slap myself across the face and slow my heart rate back down, but the result is that I finished. I did my job, and my boss is happy. And I know that in just a few short minutes, someone will give me another deadline that starts the process all over again. That’s just the nature of the job.

In all honesty, I’ve come to find that this is the best situation for me. The daily ins-and-outs of public relations are like the whip on my horse’s behind. I’ve discovered that when I’m pushed outside my comfort zone, is when I can deliver my best work. And when I’m doing that, I’m happy.

I’ve just shared the slowpoke formula for survival. (And hopefully success)

Lesson Learned: As long as this industry promises to keep challenging me, I think I’ll be just fine.

Reflections: I mean, really, who can make a quick decision at Starbucks? I don’t feel bad about that one.


Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


Nitty gritty reflections of week two

As I look back at the second week of my internship, I’ve gleaned some important things about the job.

Lesson Learned: PR isn’t always glamorous.

I got to spend two days out of the office last week, working on-site at a weeklong event. I was there to help promote one of our client’s programs, and in the process, I obtained some more very important insight:

Lesson Learned: People don’t always want to hear what you have to say. Ouch.

While I was on-site working last week, the sun was scorching, the cicadas were swarming, and at times my efforts seemed completely futile. We were at the outdoor event handing out free give-a-ways to combat the summer weather. People, however were very skeptical. A common dialogue for that day was:

Me: “Sir, would you like a…”
Man: “NO! I don’t want what your selling!”
Me: “…free fan or ice-cold bandana?”
Man: “Oh. Yes, I’ll take one.”

I felt like I was a door-to-door salesman of Tupperware rather than a hip, PR intern handing out free stuff. Yet I have a desire to prove myself hard-working, so all day long I continued to give my best effort in the hot, summer sun. I smiled and conversed and distributed items.

In the end, for every person who first gave us a puzzled or suspicious look, there was another person who was intently interested in what we were handing out. Other people just wanted to stop and have a conversation, and some of them even returned to talk to us for consecutive days. At the end of the week, there was a final little nugget of knowledge I gained:

Lesson learned: A multitude of small interactions can make a huge impact. (Wait a minute…I feel like this is a central tenet of public relations, no?)

By the end of the week, we had had a couple thousand single interactions with event-goers across the five-day period. That means that a couple thousand people came in contact with our client that week. While it was hard for me to see at the time, I was a part of that–it was a collective effort.

Public relations is about creating/building relationships with an organization’s public, and sometimes the effort we put into each relationship must be done on a personal level. Every conversation I had was a tiny part of a bigger picture. Sometimes, reaching a goal takes a little grunt work. And that’s what I specialize in… I’m the intern.

I’ve never been fooled by the Hollywood portrayals of public relations. Although I’ve always been a Sex and the City fan, I saw through Samantha’s glamorous PR facade. I wouldn’t mind, however, if my next event was on the red carpet. Just saying.

Reflections: This internship is gonna have to do a lot more to scare me off, I’m still in for the long haul.

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Posted by on May 31, 2011 in Uncategorized


Copy woes

Acclimating into the cordial office environment has been quite easy, but there’s a giant elephant in the room.

Well it’s about the size of an elephant. It weighs a couple tons and makes animalistic noises. I’m talking about the copy machine. Every office has one, and they’re rather hard to tame.

I would hardly classify myself as technologically-challenged, but the copy machine makes me very uneasy. It’s extremely complex. It functions as the office’s essential organ, serving as the scanner/printer/copier/fax all in one. It can reverse pages, staple, sort and stack in any combination you desire. It can translate 47 different languages. I do know that it’s unable to read minds, however, or else I wouldn’t goof it up so much.

At first, I thought perhaps my apprehension stemmed from the fear of breaking the expensive machine (in which case I’d probably be back as an intern for many summers to come, paying off my debt). But in true, American fashion, I think I’ll blame it on a traumatic childhood experience that I completely forgot about until now:

It was many years ago. I was probably in the 4th grade or so, which would make my little sister a first-grader. We were with our dad, who had to swing by his office and finish up some work. We got the typical speech: “be respectful and quiet,” “this is an office environment, people are working.” I’m sure it ended in a bribe—perhaps a promise of ice cream for good behavior. We were confined to the company workroom where we were to wait quietly.

Playing with the post-it notes and rubber bands were fun at first, but boredom quickly set in. The copy machine in the corner looked more and more inviting with every passing moment. Even though Dad never explicitly said it was off-limits, it looked like something we shouldn’t touch. But since when has wise thinking ever been my strength?

Inspired by a recent tv commercial, my sister and I began copying various items we found around the workroom. We started with scraps of paper from the recycle bin, then moved to various office supply objects, and eventually came up with the genius idea to copy our own faces. I was first.

So as I situated my face down on the glass, my sister closed the lid as far as it would go and pressed COPY.

I forgot to mention that in 4th grade I had beautiful long, flowing hair… the ends of which were sucked into the powerful copy machine, yanking my head helplessly down to the feeder tray. I was stuck. And in the end, my sister had to run and get my dad, who then freed me only after cutting my hair with scissors. Needless to say, we forfeited the “good behavior” bribe.

Amid all his anger, I think the hardest thing for my dad was trying not to laugh. And I’m sure employees were confused as to why there were hair clippings in the annual report.

So as a wisdom-seeking intern, I’ve decided not only to reflect on the present, but also on the past. There’s something to be learned from every situation, and now I know to pin back any loose strands before confronting the copier. As for my apprehension, I suppose comfort comes with practice, so I better get my little tushy back to my copy work.

Lessons Learned: Never let traumatic past experiences hinder the present. Never bring your sister to work.

Reflections: I hope I never break this copier or else this post is really unfunny.

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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


Inquiring interns want to know: Do we ask too many questions?

Monday morning, I strolled in the office refreshed from a restful weekend. Thankfully, my body is already starting to adjust to my new schedule, and all it’s taken is a few minor changes to my daily routine. At night, I’ve been going to bed a little earlier; and in the morning, an IV pumps coffee through my veins.

Like I said on Friday, I’m starting to feel settled in to my role at the office. And yesterday, I grappled with a familiar struggle of mine. A struggle that plagues goody-two-shoes like me who are still trying to adapt to a new environment: I always wonder, am I asking too many questions?

Questions crop up as part of any learning process, and with my strong desire for perfection, they tend to crop up a lot. But that doesn’t mean I ask them all…

Despite my will to clarify every little detail along the way, there’s an even stronger desire to withhold questions and prove myself capable of executing a task without having my hand held. Equalizing these forces is a balancing act, and somewhere in the middle lays a valuable and competent intern.
Fellow interns do you feel me? No? okay…

It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized how much I was overdoing my “logical approach.” I was at my desk, hung up on an assignment. I felt like I’d already been asking too many questions about it, and with any more, they just might question the competency of their new intern. So I sat there frazzled, debating what on earth I was going to do.

When I finally summoned the courage to ask my puzzling question, I realized how dumb my worry was. (She just smiled, gave me the answer, and 30 minutes of frantic trouble-shooting was solved in 10 seconds).

The truth is, I think I over-do the thinking. My questions are neither dumb nor irrational, and they only come after much thought or many obstacles. Perhaps I overestimate (or completely fabricate) the judgment other impart on me when I ask a question. Dearest intern, no one thinks you’re incompetent — in fact, your questions probably reflect positively on your desire to complete your assignment correctly. (Or at least, this is what I’m going with).

Lessons Learned: I don’t ask too many questions, right? Do I ask too many questions?

Reflections: Sorry for the triviality of this topic. Intern neurosis… just grasping for wisdom here.

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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Working for the weekend

Well, that’s the end of week one, and my parents think my exhaustion is quite amusing:
Oh, so now you see what a week of work is like, huh? Try adding two kids into the mix. —Mom

Thanks anyway, Mom, but I think I’ll hold off on the child rearing for a while.

The truth is, my brain is pretty fried after a long week of working; yet, I think my exhaustion has to do with adjusting to a new sleep schedule. Popping up at 6 a.m. isn’t something that came easy this week.

I feel pretty settled at this point. They’ve kept me busy this week: writing pitches, doing research, copywriting for newsletters and social media. Everything has been right along the lines of what I’d hoped I’d be doing. Some of my work has received a few edits that I hope to learn from going forward.

Now time for a restful weekend.

Lessons Learned: A full work week is harder than it seems. New respect for Rebecca Black’s song “Friday,” even if it is awful.

Reflections: Rush hour traffic is only fun for a day.

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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Uncategorized