The Last Minute Internship

The most popular season for internships has already started, but that doesn’t mean its too late for you to get involved in a program. Whether your first choices passed you by or you put off applying till now, there are still internships to be had for those who are willing to look. Larger companies with more structured and established programs have already ceased to accept applications, so focus your search on smaller and midsize employers.

Start your last minute search as quickly as possible by contacting your campus career center. Many companies give these offices notice about available internship programs in hopes of having students steered their way, so they may have a list of positions that are still available handy. Professors also often know what is going on locally in their field and maybe able to help a student they have faith in locate a last minute internship.

If neither of these yield any promising options, then try tapping into your social network. Maybe your parents, their acquaintances, or even your friend’s parents know about a company that is still looking for interns. Don’t be ashamed of utilizing those contacts. Getting a job is often about knowing the right people and having access to such information.

Another option is to call companies that you would be interested in working for directly and ask if they have any intern slots open. There is always the chance that they didn’t receive as may applications as they were expecting or that an intern dropped out of the program. In some cases companies that do regularly run internship programs will create an informal position for a student with good references who shows a lot of interest in working for them.

Since many students prefer to participate in internship programs during the summer, the competition for positions with the most prestigious companies is already high. If you are unable to secure a coveted slot with a company you’re interested it, don’t sweat it. Many employers are now offering internship programs during the fall and spring semesters. Although this may require you to take a semester off or increase your workload, the end results are certainly worth it. You stand to gain a considerable amount of workplace experience and the possibility of a job after graduation.

PR Look-around: Who Are Your Public’s?

Sometimes, the most productive action in a complex world is to break something down to its basic elements. At the risk of sounding like PR “dalai lamas,” that’s how we approach public relations. PR is a surprisingly complex communications discipline, and therefore less understood by most companies than its more cut and dried cousin — advertising. But if you begin with our simple definition of public relations – not relations with THE public, but relations with YOUR publics — it leads to a highly focused first question to ask yourself in building a successful PR program: Who are your publics?
Sound too obvious? Well, it’s amazing how many companies and even PR practitioners fail to ask. Most of our potential clients are looking for publicity when they call us in to consult. That’s fine. It’s a big part of what we do. But first you have to know where to look for publicity to reach your publics. Should it be consumer, business, or trade press; Web sites; or broadcast media? And even more important, is publicity the only way — or even the best way — to reach them? That’s why you first have to think about who your publics are. Today, it’s as likely to be your competitor as your customer.
We define “your publics” as all the constituencies your company or organization must influence positively in order to succeed. Following is a list of potential publics and some ideas for reaching them with PR communications.

Clients/Customers

This is usually the first-tier audience — the individuals or companies generating revenue for your business. To reach them with your PR program, find out what consumer and business/trade publications they read, what TV channels they watch, what radio stations they listen to, what consumer or business Web sites they visit, and what trade shows or conventions they attend. If possible, learn how they prefer to receive information — by e-mail, snail mail, fax, or in person. For smaller companies or for salespeople who have one-to-one relationships with customers or clients, gathering this data is as easy as asking them. This can even be helpful in building those relationships. For companies with mass audiences, it’s a great topic for focus groups or customer survey questionnaires. This intelligence becomes the basis of a well-targeted list of online and offline media and of venues for speaking engagements or live chat sessions.

Potential/Former Clients and Customers

Often existing client/customer media and venue lists are equally successful for reaching prospects, particularly if prospects would have the same profile as clients. This may not be true if you’re launching a new product or service that would appeal to a broader or different audience than usual. But choosing media likely to reach the new target audience can offer a cost-effective way to test a market. Also note that companies often overlook the value of communicating specifically with former clients and customers. Regardless of why the relationship ended, today’s a new day. Try sending a positive press clipping about your company with a brief direct mail letter asking for the opportunity to re-introduce your firm.

The Media

The most successful online and offline media placements happen when companies view the media as an important public. The best way to do this is to fully understand the needs of journalists and the differences in those needs across media platforms. In other words, what you provide to a Web site editor may be different than what you offer a magazine freelance writer, or a TV or radio producer, or a newspaper journalist. Journalists in all media tell us that the communication tool most overlooked by PR people is common courtesy. For goodness sake, when you get them on the phone find out if they’re on deadline before you launch into your pitch. It goes a long way toward getting positive media attention.

Analysts

We’re not talking psychiatrists here, but the financial analysts who follow particular industries for investment or venture capital houses. They watch who’s turning up in trade publications, industry Web sites, and national business pages. If you’re headed for an IPO or a new round of venture funding, make sure your press releases get to the right list of analysts. Ask your commercial wire service to send your releases to their analyst list as well as to print, broadcast, and online media. Most will do so — often at no additional cost.

Current and Potential Employees

Has anyone noticed we’re in a tight employment market? For the past several years, we’ve been adding consistent messages to our clients’ PR communications that are geared to make job seekers say, “Boy, that sounds like a great company to work for!” Positive press clips should definitely be given to prospective employees. It’s a wonderful thing when a media story about your company helps fill a key position.

Suppliers

Often the best product lines are offered on an exclusive or territorial basis. The competition to handle these moneymaking lines can be stiff. If you need to establish yourself as the “go-to” distributor, dealer, reseller, or service provider for a top supplier in order to succeed in your market, you’d better make a special effort to get into the trades or onto a conference seminar panel to let them know you’re a key player.

Alliance Partners

Many companies are growing through alliances with business partners, in addition to growing organically or through outright acquisitions. PR communications and media stories can be a great way to signal the market that you’re open to productive alliances.

Advertisers

Many organizations are looking for advertisers to help defray the costs of Web sites, newsletters, and other marketing vehicles. PR messages can be as influential as page views in convincing potential advertisers to reach their markets through your company’s outlets.

Web Site Visitors

By making it easy for Web visitors to discover whether your site has information of interest to them, you’ll win friends. Make it even easier for them to send your URL or Web pages to friends or colleagues who would be interested — even if the primary visitor is not. In other words — use your Web site for networking.

Influencers

PR is the marketing approach that builds credibility for you and your company. Anytime you build credibility with someone who already has credibility with one of your publics, you’re exponentially increasing the chances that your publics will hear good things about you from credible sources. Influencers can be anyone from trusted professionals — lawyers, accountants, investment counselors – to your customer’s mother.

Referral Sources

This public is similar to influencers. However, in addition to saying nice things about you, these people can actually send you business. Business, professional, and industry organizations are often the best places to find referral sources. Get those speaking engagements, or otherwise appear to be a recognized expert in your field. Referral sources should also know that your business ethics are unimpeachable and that you get the job done. It’s risky to refer someone. If it doesn’t work out, it’s usually the referrer who takes the blame.

Competitors

In this day of mergers, acquisitions, and industry roll-ups, make sure your competition knows how good you are and thinks well of you. There’s no need to be adversarial to be a strong competitor — and it can really pay off when US Widget and Thingamagig, LTD become Widgamagigg International.

PR Crisis Management, Internet Style

So there you are. It’s around 5:30 in the morning, and you’ve still got another two hours to sleep before you get up for another day in the office. Then the phone rings, and it’s your boss: “WE ARE ON THE COVER OF ONLINE BUSINESS MAGAZINE!”

Welcome to crisis management, Internet style.

Back in the old days, crisis management meant dealing with the press, and disseminating information based on how you wanted to appear. You had plenty of time to get your facts together; you could call several meetings with key advisors, and when you were ready, issue a statement that explained exactly what happened, the way you wanted it explained.

That doesn’t fly anymore.

This is the Internet, where rumors, true or not, can bring down a company within minutes. Information (or disinformation) can spread across the world in seconds. And in this day and age, where the news industry is not only encouraged to send out news the second they get it, but actually rewarded when they do, the days of fact-checking and multi-sourcing information to prove its accuracy are over.

If you’re in charge of safeguarding your company’s message, and keeping it pristine to the public, how do you handle the Internet? How do you perform public relations in such a way, that the end result not only saves face, but prevents those rumors from starting in the first place?

What follows are guidelines for how to survive an Internet PR crisis. Not rules, because each crisis is different. Not a playbook, because you’ll still make up most of it as you go along. But guidelines, designed to help you get through the initial strike of “Oh, no…”

  1. Shut your emotions completely off. Before you do anything else, know that this is not about you personally. It never is. Regardless of whether you’re the PR manager for hugebigcorporation.com or the president of mylittleidea.com, this is not about you, and this is not personal. For whatever reason you’re in a PR crisis, you need to think logically, outside of the company. You need to think like an observer, not like someone in the middle.
  2. Get all key management on the phone, and promptly get them to shut up. Fact of the matter is, there are as many opinions on what happened or didn’t happen as there are employees. That being said, you need to establish one company policy, and require that it’s followed. This means that you designate one person, and one person only, to be the point person with the media. This is usually the Director of PR, but I’ve seen it be marketing people, or CFOs. You do not want the CEO to speak right away. The CEO needs to be running the company, you don’t want him or her wasting time answering every reporter’s question. Once the company has a firm line on what to say, the PR point person can offer that information to the media, allowing access to the CEO on a case-by-case basis.
  3. Don’t lie. If you don’t know the answer, don’t answer it. An “I’ll get back to you on that” is always a better answer than a made up one. The fact remains, if you lie about something and you’re quoted on it in the media, it’s going to be with you for the rest of your company’s life until you’re caught. And usually, you’ll be caught a lot quicker than you imagine. Simply say “That’s a good question. I’m going to check on it and get back to you in 20 minutes.” Then do it. Do not leave the reporter without a call back. Even if you call back to let the reporter know that you’re still looking for the information, that’s better than leaving them hanging.
  4. Have a press release ready to go if needed, then don’t send it out. A big mistake that many companies make is sending out a release before all the facts are out, basically saying nothing. This leads reporters to print what they have, and miss out on the bigger picture, because you haven’t given them the bigger picture. Have the release ready to go, and over the course of the day, keep adding to it. If the crisis is small enough so a press release isn’t warranted, then simply keep it on file. It’ll be good to have for the next time.
  5. Draft an internal e-mail that you read to employees. Do not send it out if you can help it. If you have an organization all in one office building, call them all in for a conference or meeting. If you send out an e-mail to the entire company, it will get to the media. Don’t ask how, and don’t waste time trying to understand where the leak came from. Just accept that it will happen, and don’t send out anything that you wouldn’t want to see in print. If you have numerous offices or sites, try to arrange a conference or video call, either via phone or satellite feed. You’re doing this to keep morale up, to explain exactly what happened, and to remind your company, yet once again, that they should not be speaking to any media. You can’t reinforce this last line enough.
  6. Make sure your voice mail message has alternate ways for the media to reach you. You need to be 100 percent completely accessible to the press for as long as the crisis lasts. If this means canceling personal plans, so be it, or at least be reachable and ready to respond on a moment’s notice. All media employees here have alternate phone, e-mail, pager, and cellular information on their outgoing voice mail. In addition, all employees have access to the Internet from home, allowing them to keep in touch with the office at any time, day or night, weekday or weekend.
  7. Stop into the chat rooms and message boards and read. What is the public saying about your company? If you’re public, what are the market Web sites (Yahoo, Morningstar.com, etc) saying about you in their chat rooms and message boards? How can you use this information to craft a well-worded response to the media? Note: Do not, under any circumstances, respond to any messages or chat requests, no matter how tempting it might be to do so. Online bulletin boards and chat rooms are not the place to preach your company’s philosophy or try to prove your innocence. Just read what other people are saying, and try to gauge reaction.
  8. Keep upper management updated. Over the course of the day, send out a few brief e-mails, offering a few updates as to what’s going on, and what’s expected to happen. By keeping upper management updated, you’re allowing for a better flow of communication throughout the company.
  9. If you don’t already use one, consider hiring both an online and offline clipping service to follow what’s being said about your company. Luce and Burrell’s are two such services, but there are many more out there. These companies will track all forms of media coverage, both online and traditional; about your company and selected keywords you give them.
  10. Remember that there is no such thing as “off the record.” There are a few journalists out there who will try to befriend you during this nightmare, and ask you things like, “Wow… Listen, just between you and me, what really happened?” Next thing you know, that’s their headline. There is no “off the record.” Consider anything you say to a journalist fair game.
  11. Always remember rule 1: It’s not personal. You’ll get through this, and by tomorrow, it’ll be some other company’s turn in the fire. Smile, always maintain professionalism, and most importantly: work the problem and find the solution. The incident has already happened. Don’t rehash, focus on what you’re going to do to fix/prevent/make better the situation.