Fixing the calendar

Since it’s February 29 and I don’t much care for leap years, it’s the ideal time to propose a fix for the oft inconsistent Gregorian calendar.

For starters, leap years ruin the simple symmetry of figuring out the day when your next year’s birthday’s going to fall (one day later or two?). Also, I’m not crazy about the whole ‘Thirty days hath September…’ mode of keeping track of the months.

If it were up to me, I’d steal one day each from December and January, make those 30-day months and add the remainder to February, so that it, too, would have 30 days. Then even those deemed not ‘smarter than a fifth grader’ could confidently recite the length of each month.

Sure, we’d have to get used to Christmas coming six days before New Year’s. And some people’s birthdays would suddenly disappear. (If that’s you, I apologize in advance.) Of course, there would be no major celebrities born on February 30th for at least 20 years.

But so what? I think all these obstacles could easily be overcome in favour of a greater scheduling consistency.

There you have it. I now leave it up to the astronomers and PDA programmers to sort out the details.


How about a little positive reinforcement from my dentist for a change?

I went to the dentist last week for the ritual quarterly cleaning (don’t ask). And I have to say that I always come away from there feeling a little blue.

It’s not because of the threat of pain, lying in the prone position with the TV volume just a shade too low to hear over the whirring machine, or having a hygienist chip away at my teeth for what seems like an eternity.

No. It’s because no matter what I do to take care of my molars, the dental establishment always wants MORE.

Case in point: I have learned how to brush, rinse and floss over the course of many years of oral hygiene. And these are rituals I practice on a quotidian basis. Yet each time I visit the dentist, they tell me: I could be doing a better job; I’m not doing it right; I should be brushing without toothpaste first; I should brush in a circular motion (versus up and down); I should … The litany is endless.

Dental professionals, believe me when I say I’m listening to you and I’m trying. I really am.

Just once, I’d like you to ‘build me up buttercup’; but you, as the song says, just ‘let me down’.

How about a little positive reinforcement for a change?

And while I’m on the subject, why do they continue to give me a regular toothbrush when they keep trying to get me to use an electric? Just asking.

Don’t look a gift blog…

… in the word-of-mouth…

What I mean to say (if you’ve recovered from that pun) is that blogging is hard work: write; edit; publish; repeat ad infinitum.

Sure, it’s fun and rewarding but there’s no mistaking the commitment. And every once in a while, the task of coming up with yet another post feels a bit daunting. (At least it does to me.)

But sometimes, we get lucky and are handed a gift blog.

‘So what’s a gift blog?’ you may ask.

A gift blog is a short, pithy post that pretty much writes itself. Maybe it’s a pointer to another blog that tickled your fancy, an interesting link or two, a reprise of an older entry, a plug for something you’re doing.

Gift blogs are also an easy way to drive traffic to your site when you’re in desperate need of a new post.

My advice is not to get too reliant on them (though some bloggers do).

Then, when one comes your way, you can treat it as a welcome respite and enjoy it… and the bonus gift of time.

Plugged in

A couple of days ago I tried an experiment: I wanted to avoid reading email, blogs and all and sundry tidbits on the internet for 24 hours – to get a respite from the constant online activity. Instead I would go ‘old fashioned’ and spend the day reading magazines or a book.

But I soon found there was something or other I wanted to retrieve from a website. And I was getting more anxious not looking at my BB than if I checked it. (You know, maybe catching a furtive glance at the locked screen. Finding out the time and then casually noticing I had six emails… That’s not too many to ignore, I reasoned. But what if one’s important and I have to read it… now?)

You get the picture.

I decided that my forced abstenance was causing me more tension than simply being plugged in.

And you know what? When I did reconnect, there was nothing earth-shattering awaiting me. But neither did I feel a surge of guilt for breaking down.

The truth is I really do like being connected. I like the social part of social media. And I like knowing about things early (before they appear in MSM).

Of course, there’s always a tradeoff between time spent reading online and time spent reading magazines or books.

The point for me is, it’s not a matter of shutting one thing off (or out). It’s a matter of deciding for myself what I think is the best way to spend my reading time. And sometimes that’s a really hard choice.

So you want to work in PR – revisited

Last year, I wrote a post about the key things I look for when someone applies for a job. And in response, Centennial College’s Gary Schlee invited me to take part in a class assignment where I would create a job description for his students and then grade the cover letters and resumes. There were 26, if I recall. It was a lot of work. (I read each resume three times and agonized over the marks.)

I promised myself I wouldn’t do it again.

So when Gary asked me this year, I said… yes.

And the reason I did it is that I think it’s important for practitioners to connect with students and provide them a perspective on the industry. It’s also a great preview of future PR stars.

Here’s a summary of what I told them:

  • For me, the first and most important quality in a resume is extremely hard to measure. It’s the ability to tell your story in such a way that it jumps off the page and makes me take notice. How do you do that? It’s not through fancy writing. It’s finding a way to be yourself and have your personality shine through in two pages of bullet points.
  • Write with clarity and tell me what you want. Then edit till it sparkles (brevity is the soul of wit).
  • Don’t flatter me. And please don’t tell me about my agency. I should know that.
  • For an entry level position, lead with your education. That shows me where you’re coming from.
  • Get rid of that generic list of ‘qualifications’ that I often see at the top of resumes. It really bugs me because it’s such a time waster for the reader. Instead, integrate the relevant points into your experience. And use examples.
  • Oh and by the way, I expect you to be proficient in computers so you don’t have to mention your knowledge of Word.
  • Don’t write in the passive tense.
  • I’ve said this before: typos count big! Nothing makes a bad impression like one or more typos. And I’ll let you in on a secret: typos will disqualify you from a job at my agency. I mean, if you can’t proofread your own resume, how can we trust you to send perfect documents to our clients?
  • Show me that you’re a hard worker (by listing some of the other non-PR work you’ve done – retail and restaurants, for example).

By the way, this year, there were 39 ‘applicants’ and most of the submissions were really strong; nearly 75 per cent of the class got a B+ or higher. That’s impressive. The students are also well versed in social media and many are writing their own blogs for an online course. You can find them here.

Finally, I want to say thanks to all the Centennial students for listening to me, commenting on my blog and asking questions. Good luck with your careers.

Media relations 2.0

A couple of days ago and quite out of the blue, I got a call from a reporter at the Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal. He was doing an article on a major infrastructure project in his community that refrenced the 407 ETR (a toll road in Toronto). And he wanted to talk to a Torontonian who regularly drove on the highway.

OK. That sounded reasonable enough. But I don’t work for the 407, nor do I have any transportation clients. Why me? I asked him. How did you find me?

He replied that he didn’t know anyone in town so he googled PR in Toronto and my name came up (as a member of the CPRS Toronto board and from my blog). So he did a bit more digging and then contacted me to see if I could help.

I have to say that I was tickled pink by this request. Sure I was busy doing other things, but this was completely unexpected; it made my day. I told him I would try to find someone he could interview (and I did).

But more than that, this brief encounter made me marvel about how inter-connected google makes us; how we live in a world where, with a few key words, the internet and a bit of ingenuity, we can find pretty much whatever we want.

It also gave me cause to reflect on the relationship between journalists and PR folks. How smoothly it can function. How simple (and rewarding) working together can be.

You just need to ‘Reach out of the darkness’ as the one-hit wonder once said.