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Old Dogs Already Know the New Tricks: Ageism in Hiring

Man Looking At Job Ads“Buy low and sell high.” That’s how you make money. You buy your stocks or your raw materials at one price, then sell the stocks, your services or your finished product at a higher price that pays your expenses and salaries, and leaves a profit left over. It’s simple, right?

So why is it that when it comes to stocks and employees, we seem to be incapable of understanding and acting on this very simple premise? We rush to buy stocks when they’re “hot” and prices are at their highest, then sell when they fail to reach even higher heights and perform as we expect them to. Big surprise.

The same faulty thinking applies to hiring, particularly in the PR field. The recession created an incredible pool of experienced talent available at a bargain price, but what do we do? We keep chasing the same pool of inexperienced employees that need a significant investment in training and education before they can be a fully functional member of your team.

Studies cited by AARP highlight the myths held by HR and hiring managers, including that older applicants were more likely to be burned-out, resistant to new technologies, absent due to illness, poor at working with younger supervisors and reluctant to travel, are less creative, less productive, slower mentally and more expensive to employ.

“But Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of business and coauthor (with former AARP CEO Bill Novelli) of the 2010 book Managing the Older Worker, has looked more closely at these stereotypes, pulling together research from fields like economics, demography and psychology. What he determined: Virtually none of them holds up.

When it comes to actual job performance, Cappelli says, older employees soundly thrash their younger colleagues. “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age,” he declares. ‘I thought the picture might be more mixed, but it isn’t. The juxtaposition between the superior performance of older workers and the discrimination against them in the workplace just really makes no sense.’”

But many employers are uncomfortable with the professional skills of younger workers.

“A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.”

Our stereotypes and prejudices are preventing us from finding the best, most qualified employee because we stop looking at many candidates for reasons that have absolutely no connection with how they do their job. How do we “know” that a new college graduate can’t function effectively solve problems? Did you ask them for an example of when they’ve been faced with a problem they were responsible for solving? How do we “know” that a 50+ worker doesn’t know technology or social media?

Here’s one opinion from a Millennial who decided to insert herself into a LinkedIn group discussion on ageism in the PR profession. The name has been withheld to protect the guilty:

Though I do believe that older employees due hold more reliability and comfort to the company in which they work for. However, the face of media is rapidly changing as technology is taking over or at least being implicated into business plans. Because of this fact, I think that younger professionals have more of an advantage because we grew up in an environment where we were able to watch and participate in many social networking sites. We know how it works and understand how to use it. I am not saying that an older professional could not figure how to utilize these strategies to benefit the company, I’ve personally found that many of those who have been in the industry for a while unwilling and still are unable to see the value that technology provides. I think the only solution is to mix the new with the old, then we would be able to use the expertise of our senior executives while still providing insight as to the benefits of technology.

Acceptance of technology is key–after all, our generation is integrating into the PR field and your resistance and bitterness isn’t going to stop it. We all have value in this profession and if we work together, imagine how successful we would be. @John: I’m sorry if you don’t agree with my quick response via iPhone (technology at its finest), but maybe you should focus your energy on how to effectively communicate with others and stop taking your bitterness out on younger generations.

I kid you not. She does have a valid point, once you restrain your twitching fingers from reaching for your red pen. She also demonstrates a significant bit of cluelessness as the young (and some not-so-young) so often do in her post. She chose to insert herself into a social media group of mostly 45 and up professionals sharing our personal experiences with age discrimination to tell us we don’t understand/aren’t willing to learn how to use social media, and essentially said it’s our own fault that we’re discriminated against. And when the inevitable blowback occurred, she resorted to the Millennial version of the-dog-ate-my-homework excuse: “It’s the phone’s fault.” MmmHmmm. Sure. Good way to persuade persuade people.

The whole point of my argument was actually summed up very well (and more diplomatically) by another Millennial who participated in the same discussion, Ashlee Espegnell:

I think this kind of a hiring trend hurts everyone in the long run. I worry that if companies stop having experienced PR/comm people on staff to mentor new employees, they’re going to end up with a workforce full of people who know the tech but not the important aspects of the business (clients, past successes/failures, etc). I personally would prefer to learn the practical application of skills from someone who’s had experience doing it; not from a company’s social media strategy document! It’s also not particularly encouraging for new people in the industry to think that there may not be long-term job prospects out there. Here’s hoping – for all of us! – that this trend doesn’t continue.

So how do we fix this? How do we persuade employers and HR departments that age is irrelevant, that it’s attitude and ability that matters most? I’m open to ideas.



Apologies and Leaders: It’s Simple, Really

Does saying “I’m sorry” help? As with most things in life, the answer is: it depends. For an apology to work, it needs to be real. It needs to be unequivocal and sincere. You can’t tap dance around the issue with phrases so beloved of corporate offenders such as, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by [insert the sin du jour].

No you’re not. You’re sorry someone is offended, not that you committed the offense. You’re sorry you got caught, and you’re trying to get away with the barest amount of public remorse so you can go back to doing whatever you shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. Too many company leaders try to wiggle out of actually being sorry with backdoor escapes like this. It’s no wonder people are cynical about corporate executives and politicians these days, with what passes for apologies out there. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Coffee Contemplations: Battling the Blog

iStock_000018161229XSmallWhy is it so hard to write a blog post? I have my own personal blog (obviously, you’re reading it), plus my company blog, and to top it off, I teach writing to aspiring PR professionals. Should be a breeze, right? Except that it isn’t. Just look at how long it’s been since my last blog post.

I will do ANYTHING rather than sit down and write a blog post. Well, almost anything. I’ll wash dishes, pull weeds, walk the dogs, anything! And Facebook! FB is a fantastic procrastination tool. I can kill HOURS on FB, sharing snarky political memes and photos of lost dogs.

I don’t know what it is about that blank screen that wipes my mind free of inspiration faster than Bounty’s Quicker Picker Upper – it soaks up all my ideas and leaves no trace behind.

So how to overcome writer’s block? Here’s my Top 10 ways to get the creative juices flowing: Read the rest of this entry »


Journalist, Heal Thyself First

Shut up. I don’t want to hear another word or snarky remark from journalists about the supposed ethical shortcomings of PR professionals. Not after former broadcaster Mike Snyder created fake social media accounts to wage a public war with Nasher Sculpture Center over the Museum Tower on behalf of his client, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.

Snyder used fake Facebook accounts to “flame” and attack opponents over the  glare of sunlight reflected into the Nasher by the 42-story condominium tower, which is owned by the pension system. Snyder, hiding behind these personas, posted comments to online news articles defending pension officials and attacking the Nasher Center, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and others, according to The Dallas Morning News. The conflict led the Dallas chapter of the Public Relations Society of America to issue the following sharply worded statement:

“In the strongest terms possible the Public Relations Society of America, Dallas Chapter repudiates the actions of someone claiming to practice public relations. Re: Museum Tower Skullduggery – ex-newsman Mike Snyder, who admits to creating fake social media accounts, does not represent the PRSA Dallas chapter. He is not a member, never has been a member and never will be a member.” - Rand LaVonn, President PRSA Dallas

Snyder has been quoted as defending their use as part of a larger effort embraced by the pension system to “facilitate a community dialogue.” Really? Lying and throwing attack bombs is how you facilitate community dialogue? I must have missed that chapter in my PR class in college.

The paper goes on to quote Snyder as saying:

“Social media is an integral part of this information process and open to anyone who wishes to participate,” he wrote, “and they may participate in anonymity if they choose to do so.”

Snyder is correct…technically. But I’d like to know how he would have responded as a journalist to an interview subject who tried that excuse on him in his broadcasting days. Somehow I can envision high-minded pontificating on the forces of PR Evil attempting to unduly influence the good citizens of Dallas. To be fair, I don’t know if that’s what would actually happen, but with journalists’ history of using PR as their favorite pejorative, it’s a fair assumption.

My point is that ethical behavior is not dictated by the profession you choose, unless you choose to be a crook, which is another subject completely. Ethical behavior is integral to who you are as a person. You don’t suddenly check your ethics at the door, just because you retire from journalism and decide to call yourself a PR person – which doesn’t actually make you a PR person, by the way. It’s not an easy profession, and it takes more than a journalism background, or being a “people person” to be even a mediocre public relations executive, just as it takes more than an ability to read a teleprompter to be a journalist.

From the sound of it, Mike Snyder belongs in neither profession.


PR has a PR Problem…and it’s Journalists, Pt. I

Late last night, as I sat grading final projects from my PR writing students, I had one of the all-news TV stations droning on in the background for the noise to keep me going, I heard it. The “P” word. Actually, he said the “P words – plural.

PR Problem.

As in, “that company has a PR problem,” meaning that company has been caught with doing something it shouldn’t  and now needs to whitewash its sins. Cue the insincere gaggle of spinmeisters, racing in to dish out the fluff, to distract everyone and make it all better so the company can go back to business as usual, screwing the public. Hmmm….sorry, I don’t see any racing going on.

In a way, it’s not the fault of the anchor tasked with filling that particular hour on a Friday evening with trying to make the endless repetition of news interesting. He was just using a term that is all too common in the news media. And it’s our fault – we PR people. We allowed it to happen. And now we’re paying for it… and I’m fed up with it.

It’s no secret that the PR profession has more than its share of people who don’t belong in it. People who can’t write, can’t spell, and think that there’s nothing more to it than being a “people person” with “charisma” [insert your best high school voice here]. As a professional wordsmith and teach of PR writing, this drives me nuts. Journalism has its share of the guilty as well, which is the topic of another blog post.

For most of the last century and this one, journalists have seen themselves guardians of the public, watchdogs for the voiceless, enshrined in the aura of the Bill of Rights. PR people, on the other hand are the Evil Ones, corrupt purveyors of the Dark Arts, sinister shadowy beings….well, you get the idea.

PR execs tend to have a deep-seated respect for reporters and the journalistic world. Many of us started out as journalists, others were taught in college that journalists were the ultimate wordsmiths. We grew up idolizing Edward R. Murrow, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite and others of their ilk. After all, who else spends so much time studying reporters, their habits and preferences? We obsess over every interaction, every word, every contact with reporters. Major companies such as Cision, Vocus, BurrellesLuce and others provide detailed dossiers on what subjects they cover, and how they prefer to be contacted. We’re more obsessed with them than the most dedicated stalker.

And how is that devotion returned? Journalists casually use terms like “PR ploy, PR problem, flacks,” etc., as their favorite pejorative, to the point where PR has become synonymous with lies, cover ups, corruption and any number of other sins. Don’t believe me? Just Google “Journalists hate PR.”

And in our reverence and reluctance to cross those almighty reporters who hold the key to coverage of our clients, we have allowed them to saddle our profession with a reputation it doesn’t deserve.

We can’t afford to live in fear of the Big Bad Reporter anymore. According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists:

Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:

— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.

[Emphasis mine]

That goes for accidental, casual distortion as well. I think it’s time that journalists reexamine their choice of words, and stop unfairly maligning the public relations profession. For the good of both PR and journalism, we need to speak up when we as a profession are unfairly maligned.

More on this topic later.


Farewell to Arthur Yann, APR

Last Thursday night, Arthur Yann, Vice President of Public Relations for the Public Relations Society of America, was doing something most of us do every day. He was

Arthur Yann, APR
1964 – 2013

commuting home from a long day at work when he suffered a massive heart attack and passed away. He was only 48. Just a few months younger than I am. In the same profession, doing the same things I do every day. It’s more than a shock – it’s just surreal. People our age don’t just suddenly die without warning. But he did. He left behind his wife Amy and his young daughter, Sofia, and lots of memories.

I first met Arthur at one of PRSA’s national Assemblies, the governing body of the professional society of which we are both members. Arthur was just settling into his role at PRSA; I was in my first year as a delegate representing my chapter. But I really got to know Arthur during the debate over the accreditation requirement for PRSA officers as part of our massive bylaws revision a few years ago. The delegates’ conference calls leading up to the Assembly were almost exclusively focused on this issue, and it engendered many passionate discussions. It also attracted the attention of a perennial PRSA gadfly, who sought to distort the debates as a tool in his never-ending vendetta against PRSA, and decided to use me as one of his tools. He did so by doctoring quotes and attributing them to me.

People who know me know that I am passionate about this profession, and I am extremely vocal about it. I generally don’t have to explain who I am to the staff at PRSA in New York. Being somewhat mouthy, as soon as I found out about the quotes I immediately spoke out against this publicly, and since it involved PRSA, I gave Arthur a call to give him a heads up. The gadfly was persistent…and so was I. Which means Arthur and I got acquainted rather quickly over the whole issue. It became an annual event for a few years, up to and including last fall’s International Conference.

When I feel strongly about something that attacks me personally, I can get pretty scathing, and Arthur had the unenviable task more than once of lowering my professional pressure gauge to manageable levels,  getting me to voluntarily edit out some of my harsher rhetoric even though, in my opinion, it was my best writing.

He had a wonderful sense of humor, which is a must-have quality for this profession, especially when you are the PR person for the PR profession’s association. It was never more on display than at last fall’s Assembly, when we were talking in the back of the room during a break about our latest favorite single malt scotch. The members of the national nominating committee had a prank planned on Committee Chair Gary McCormick involving those countertop bells you see in businesses. A committee member walked up to me to get a bell – and I was caught red-handed. Arthur stopped mid-sentence, laughed, and then just asked if I had any spares.

The last time I talked to Arthur, we joked that one of these days we were going to gather the scotch drinkers at the conference for an evening sampling single malts and swapping favorites. We’d talked about doing it off and on, but it always ended up being “next year.” Unfortunately, we won’t get that chance now. But this fall, I will make sure that “next year” becomes “this year” – even though it won’t be the same without him. And I’ll never put off seeing friends again. Another lesson learned from Arthur.

Arthur meant a great deal to our profession, and everyone who knew him is grieving his loss. I can’t imagine how his wife and daughter feel at this moment, losing him so suddenly, and so close to Father’s Day. I know the Assembly and PRSA won’t be the same now. I hope some of the stories being shared on various blogs and PRSA’s Facebook page will bring comfort to his family. Amy and Sofia, please know you are in our thoughts and prayers.

Slainté, Arthur.

Note: Additional tributes to Arthur from Bill Murray at PRSA can be found at In Memoriam Arthur Yann, from Gini Dietrich at Rest in Peace Arthur Yann, and from Martin Waxman at A Tribute to Arthur Yann, APR


Sunday Coffee Contemplations: Advertising’s Struggle for Relevance

Ignoring AdvertisingAt first, I thought this post would be about the dangers of thinking a particular communication tool, social media, is the strategy. But as I reread Scott Elser’s column in Inc., “Is Social Media Advertising or PR,” I realized it’s the desperation of advertising’s search for relevance in an environment that is increasingly becoming adept at tuning it out. Elser claims:

Advertising is far more connected to day-to-day business strategy and the objectives associated with specific products and services. Advertisers are focused more on achieving measurable results and meeting actual sales goals. As investment in social increases, return on investment will become an increasingly important metric. And social media will need to be closely aligned with product news, promotional offers and customer segmentation to drive real success. In other words, the expertise required for future tangible social success clearly lies with the advertising team.

Really? You want to kill social media completely by using it to advertise?

The London-based market research firm Fournaise Marketing Group reported that in 2011, on average, consumer response to marketing messages declined 19% compared to the first half of 2010. The Star Group reported on their blog that, “In tracking cross-channel (online and offline) ad campaigns across 20 different countries, the report showed that the hardest areas hit were the “mature markets” – the US, Europe and Australia, who saw a decrease in customer engagement and response of 23%.”

A Nielsen study reported that “92% of consumers say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations, less than half trust paid ads in traditional media outlets. The trust in these ads has declined by more than 20% since 2009. The level of trust in traditional advertising declined by more than 20%”

One of the reasons given for this decrease was “Ads have no redeeming value.”


That’s pretty harsh, especially following the 2002 publication of The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR by Al and Laura Ries, and it’s unflinching look at the advertising’s shortcomings when it comes to launching a product.

The first assignment my PR & advertising writing students are handed is to spend a few hours observing the world around them and list the advertisements they see. Then they are to analyze them, noting which ones resonated, and which ones don’t. I ask them to point out the ones they believe don’t work, and tell me why that is. Their answers should scare every advertising person out there.

  • I never noticed how many ads there are because I tune them all out.
  • They’re boring.
  • I normally never notice advertising – they’re just there.
  • I never realized just how many brands were just sitting there, advertising to us.
  • Our society is being thrown advertisements 24/7, yet we fail to realize it anymore because we have almost become numb to it.

The only time we really pay attention to advertising is during the Super Bowl season, and that’s only because it’s no longer advertising, it’s entertainment. If advertising can no longer accomplish even the basic task of gaining the attention of the audience, much less sell the product, what’s left? Retreating to the siege mentality of the previous century and trying to claim social media as advertising’s territory is misguided and smacks of desperation.

If advertising wants to be successful, it needs to take a look at itself and how it reaches out to people, not try to find just one more way to blast out ads at people. If they don’t, the end result for social media will just be one more way people ignore companies.



Staples Stepping Over the Privacy Line?

Yesterday, I visited Staples.com to check the price of an item before heading over to my local store. Today, I received this in my email:

I understand the need for cookies to allow pages to load faster – I get it, I truly do. But I was on a brand new computer that I’d never used to go to Staples.com. I didn’t sign in, I didn’t place anything in a shopping cart, nothing. PLUS, I use a completely different email address for rewards programs, to keep ads and promo emails under control. Yet Staples tracked me back to my email, I assume through my IP address.

Staples is obviously aware that this is a potential issue. When I unsubscribed from receiving emails from them, I was presented with a screen asking my why I was unsubscribing. Take a look at choice #6: “Staples emails are too relevant (feel watched).

Is this stepping over the privacy line to the point of irritating customers? Does it make you “feel watched?” I know it did me.

Your thoughts?






I Don’t Need Memory, I Have the Internet!

I don’t need memory, I have the Internet!

A recently graduated friend of mine surprised me with this statement some time back. At first, I laughed it off as just one more difference between my Baby Boomer self and those of the “Connected Generation,” but the more I think about it, the more I have to wonder if that isn’t a dangerous development in how we use our brains. Today on Facebook, a group of us joked that when the Internet goes down, we forget our computers can do other things. Read the rest of this entry »


Off But Yet On Topic: The 10 Things I Want to Do Before I Die

Thanks to one of my favorite PR people/bloggers, Gini Dietrich and her blog Spin Sucks, I was treated to a very thought-provoking blog post from Jayme Soulati (@Soulati) on hopes, dreams and wishes, both unfulfillable and yet to be fulfilled. Jayme decided to use her blog to ponder whether we are satisfied with our lives’ achievements after watching Johnny Cash’s final performance. Jayme asked her readers:

Was he satisfied with his life’s achievements? Would you be?

I have so much to do, and I challenge you to carry this series forward. Write a list of 20 things you still want to accomplish before you leave this world and stamp them on the blogosphere as part of your legacy. I have a hunch why this inspiration (which can be positive or not) hit me, and I’m going to make an indelible mark right here.

So following Jayme’s lead, here are the 20 things I want to do before I die:

  1.  Complete NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and get it published.
  2. Acquire perfect grammar/punctuation skills.
  3. Write a PR book – no, write two! And yes, I already know the topics.
  4. Leave the world a better place than it currently is today by eliminating gender and sexual orientation discrimination.
  5. Create and/or fund two scholarships: one for PRSSA students at my alma mater, Illinois State University; and one for my sorority sisters of ΚΛΙ, the Clionian Literary Society of McKendree University.
  6. Spend two weeks in Tahiti.
  7. Have a perfectly clean house.
  8. Tour England and Scotland, to pay homage to the great literature and authors I studied in college as an English lit major.
  9. Get my motorcycle license so I follow Steppenwolf’s advice to, “get your motor running/get out on the highway.”
  10. See my husband’s paintings hanging in an art gallery.
  11. Locate definitive evidence of my native American ancestors – difficult, when they had to hide their race when they made mixed marriages to protect their families from discrimination.
  12. Pay off all my bills, especially my student loans.
  13. Earn my PhD in public relations.
  14. Figure out how my husband’s brain works.
  15. Locate a missing relative.
  16. Finally lose the extra weight I’ve carried around for the past few years.
  17. Hit a hole-in-one at the Old Course at St. Andrews….or heck, just hit a hole-in-one anywhere.
  18. Crew on a boat in the Mack.
  19. Never let my furry children grow old.
  20. Meet Nathan Fillion, aka “Captain Tightpants,” over drinks.

If I’d written this just a few days ago, I would have added one more: “To be an Illinois Jaycee Ambassador.”  That belongs in the category of “things I have no control over” and would have been something I considered unfulfillable, because my Jaycee career was long over. However, just this past Saturday, I was surprised by the current Chief Ambassador and Jaycee friends past and present with Ambassadorship #262. So don’t give up on your personal and professional dreams – you never know when the most outlandish one will come true.

So in the spirit of hopes and dreams, what’s on your list?

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