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Author Archives: Stephanie Shirley

About Stephanie Shirley

Stephanie Shirley has a strategic and entrepreneurial mind combined with a strong talent for creative writing. She brings to the table experience in many different fields of communications including corporate, non-profit, government, political campaigns, media relations, event planning and copywriting. This diverse portfolio allows her to blend and pull from many different sets of skills to meet any client’s communications needs. As a graduate of Penn State University, she holds degrees in Public Relations/Advertising and Communications, Arts and Science. She began her consulting business at the age of 23 and her work has since impacted hundreds of clients across the U.S.

How Some of the Worst Jobs Have Made My Career Better

how-some-of-the-worst-jobs-have-made-my-career-better

For anyone who has worked summer jobs, internships, entry level jobs and hey, even high-profile, but highly demanding roles within a business, you know this to be true. There are drawbacks to every job you’ve ever worked.

The hope for a happy career is to ultimately find a job where the positives outweigh the negatives and maybe you even learn to embrace the negatives a little. But until you’ve made it to this point, you’re likely compiling a bunch of horror stories of jobs that make you consider moving to a remote island and living off the land.

To offer you some inspiration and encouragement that you’re not alone, here’s a breakdown of some of my worst employment experiences and what I learned from each of them along the way.

The Job: Under-the-table lawn work

The Lesson: It’s no one’s responsibility but your own to make the job enjoyable (or at least bearable). I learned this at the age of 16 when I spent hours in the hot sun, by myself, pulling weeds and moving mulch for a neighbor. At first it sounded great. I could set my own hours, work as much or as little as I wanted in a week and get paid in cash. However, I hated every hour I spent in that gorgeous lawn as the minutes barely crept by. I realized if I was going to survive the summer – and earn my spending money – I needed to find a way to make it more enjoyable.

I started to bring a radio with me, set goals and mini rewards (snack time, anyone?) to breakdown the work day and work efficiently so I could knock projects off in a fraction of the time they estimated it would take. The lesson I learned was if you’re bored or miserable with your job, first think about what you can do to make it more enjoyable. Little changes can make a world of difference!

The Job: The dining commons on a college campus

The Lesson: Everyone needs to share in the sh*t work. At the dining commons, I mostly had the same shifts in the area I enjoyed working the most. But one Sunday each month, I (and every other employee) was assigned to work in the wash room where I would clean the gunk off plates and trays next to a steamy industrial washer. Not glamorous at all. I hated when this shift came up on my schedule and good luck ever finding someone to switch! The lesson I learned here was that in order for the sh*t work to get done, everyone had to take a turn. In the grand scheme of my work schedule, this was such a small fraction of my time, and I got to spend the rest of my work hours doing something I actually felt was fun. Because we all took our turn, it lessened the load for everyone.

The Job: A desk job in state government

The Lesson: Give every job an earnest effort, but if it’s not taking you the direction you want to go, have courage to change courses. This pretty much sums up my short, but life-changing experience in state government. Coming off a statewide political campaign and being dumped into a snail’s pace desk job, felt like falling off a speeding train. At first the set hours, more than manageable workload and low expectations seemed great. But it didn’t take long before I realized I couldn’t do this for another month, let alone another 9 years to get vested.

I realized that this job would waste the precious early years of my life, the ones where you have unjaded ideas, unlimited energy and a mindset to take on the world. I couldn’t risk suppressing the talents I know I had to be an entrepreneur – so I made the leap…and never looked back. God, I’m grateful for that job that pushed me over the edge!

The Job: A virtual writing position

The Lesson: Don’t let anyone undervalue your talent or monopolize your time. This was a gig I actually took on as I was simultaneously running Bennis Public Relations (and working from home with my 6 month old son). I thought it could be like any of my other consulting clients where I had set monthly deliverables, worked virtually and could provide what they needed. Simply put, I was very, very wrong. This client monopolized all of my time and because I was technically on payroll (and not a contractor), it’s not like I was getting paid more for the additional work they threw on me.

It felt eerily similar to my political campaign days and my gut told me it was all wrong. Not more than 6 weeks in, I made the hard decision to give my notice and leave the position. Up until this point I never “fired” any client or left a gig, but in retrospect I am so grateful I had the support of my family and the confidence to get out when I did! As fate would have it, not more than one month later, two awesome clients cold-called me and we’re still working together today!

What terrible job experiences have you had that have actually had a positive impact on your career? Share your stories by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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Can an Introvert Thrive in a Career in Public Relations?

Introvert

On several occasions, I’ve blogged about being an introvert and how this personality type impacts my personal and professional life in countless ways. Most people who meet me don’t believe I’m an introvert; after all, I’m not shy.

For anyone else who is an introvert, you know that while introverted people can be shy, this isn’t the true definition of the personality type. Rather, it’s where you gain your energy. For introverts, we gain our energy from solitude. We can – and often do – enjoy being around people, but only for so long. Once our energy is drained, we crave the peace and rejuvenation of being in a low key environment.

I like to think of myself as an “outgoing introvert.” When I’m running on a full tank of energy, I shine in the social spotlight. Then, like the flip of a switch, I’m ready to retreat and recharge. Choosing a career in public relations may seem like a poor choice for my personality type, but quite the contrary. I’ve found it to be a great fit for several reasons.

If you can relate to being an “outgoing introvert” with a passion for communicating with others, the good news is that you can absolutely thrive in a career field like public relations. However, there are several key things you must be willing to do. Take a look!

Step outside your comfort zone

It’s important to keep in mind that being an introvert is a characteristic and not an excuse. Sure, I’m an introvert, but I know I still have to push myself outside my comfort zone to serve my clients. That may mean video conferencing, making cold calls, emceeing an event or stepping in front of the television camera. The truth is, I don’t necessarily like doing all of those things, but I will do them because it’s part of my job.

Design a workspace that works for you

I work from home where I have a calm and quiet work space with very limited distractions. I can fully immerse myself in the task at hand without being interrupted by phone calls, a chatty coworker or impromptu team meetings. This is how introverts function best. We can become deeply focused, and therefore extremely efficient with our time. We also get to reserve our energy for work without having it drained by small talk and frequent interruptions.

Schedule commitments well in advance

In public relations, it’s necessary to attend client events, networking functions and educational opportunities to stay top of mind and on top of trends. As an introvert, there’s nothing I hate more than having a commitment sprung on me at the last minute. I often have my days planned out and if socializing wasn’t part of the plan, I likely won’t have the energy or right frame of mind to enjoy the event. I make every effort to schedule conference calls, meetings and events at least several weeks in advance so I don’t overload my schedule and so that I allow myself downtime every day.

Protect your personal time

Finally, I protect my personal time like it’s a commitment on my calendar, even if it’s just allowing myself time to read, write and maybe even nap. This downtime is what allows me to work efficiently the rest of the day, knocking of tasks far quicker than I would if I let myself burnout without a break. If someone wants to spring an impromptu meeting or phone call on me during this personal time, I make every effort to push it to another time that I have available for such tasks. Even the most hectic of days are far more manageable when I know I have an hour of personal time to regroup, refocus and reenergize.

Can you relate to being an introvert and working in an “outgoing” career field? How do you set yourself up for success so that you don’t burnout each day?

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Job Hunt While Working Your Current Job

how-to-job-hunt-while-working-your-current-jobJust because you’re currently employed doesn’t mean you’re done looking for your next opportunity or career move. In fact, it’s smart to begin planning your next steps before you quit your current job to avoid a lapse in pay or a gap in your resume. The downside is it can be challenging to find enough hours in the day to fulfill the responsibilities of your current job while putting forth your best effort to find a new one.

From our first-hand experience with this very scenario, we have four helpful tips to make your “working” job search just a little bit easier. Take a look!

Block schedule time for job hunting

Just like you schedule your current work tasks and appointments, you need to also schedule the daily tasks and milestones you need to accomplish to keep your job hunting on track. Treat it like any other commitment on your calendar and make a dedicated space for it. On what day and what time will you check for job listings? When will you update your resume and send to potential employers? When will you schedule interviews? Allow margin in your daily work schedule to accommodate these extra tasks.

Update your Resume

Before you start diving into the application process of your job search, dust off that resume! Take the opportunity to first update your most current employer, if you plan to use them as a reference. Next, research the latest resume template trends and update your formatting, as necessary. Carefully review your content and adjust any areas that may or may not be relevant for the new job you’re seeking. Lastly, add any marketable skills and attributes that would make you more valuable and appealing to your prospective employer.

Take advantage of online resources

With today’s technology, we are fortunate to have instant access to countless resources that can make job hunting easier. First, make sure your Linkedin profile is up to date and professional looking. Next, create a profile on popular job seeker websites. Also browse these same sites for potential job opportunities. Finally, familiarize yourself with your ideal employers’ websites to see if they have listed any job openings or career opportunities – and check back often!

Schedule time outside of work

Working a fulltime job while looking for a new fulltime job is essentially working two jobs. It will require a lot of time and dedication, but the reward is a new career that you love! It’s important to not use hours of your current job to look for a new job. Not only could this get you fired, it can also jeopardize this employer as a future reference on your resume. Basically, this requires you to use your personal time to job hunt, which is fair and reasonable. You will need to sacrifice social time and maybe even a little sleep and relaxation to put in the hours to find your new dream job. If this hard work seems intimidating, you should carefully consider your motivation to get a new job. No matter what, a career change requires a lot of work as well as stepping outside your comfort zone. If you’re committed to making a change, these (temporarily) long hours should seem manageable, given the potential reward at the end!

Are you currently looking for a new job while simultaneously working a fulltime job? Let us know how you balance both responsibilities or ask us a question related to this topic!

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Professionally Fire a Client

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


How to Professionally Fire a ClientIn an ideal world, we would all become best friends with our clients and enjoy the work we do for them so much that we would wonder why we’re actually being paid. But in reality, some clients push us to the point of resolving that no amount of cash is enough to offset the stress and anxiety they add to our lives.

If you’re forced to make the tough decision of whether or not to cut ties with a client, it’s important to do so with professionalism and class. Even a strained client relationship has the potential to yield future leads and recommendations if you make the effort to leave with a mutual understanding.

Take a look at this list of common “problem clients” and how you can professionally approach each with a breakup line better than “Let’s see other people.”


The offense: Late (or nonexistent) payments

Everyone has a rare moment or two when a payment gets lost in the shuffle or maybe a particularly hectic month that causes you to make a late payment. But for this type of client, it happens all the time! It’s like they pay no attention nor do they care about your payment policy (i.e. net 30 days), yet they still want all their services delivered on time.

What you wish you could say: “I’m wasting way too much time pleading for your payments and acting like I actually believe your endless excuses.”

What you should say: “I enjoy working with you, but you are consistently late with making payments while I continue to meet your project deadlines. Out of respect for my time and for my other clients, I can no longer accommodate this relationship.”

Words of wisdom: After poking and prodding this type of client with reminders about making their payment, you might finally receive a check (sometimes with a nice “forgive me” note) and be tempted to continue the cycle with just “one more chance.” Just keep in mind that this relationship will continue to add stress to your day and steal time from your other clients. If you do feel compelled to stick with them, suggest that they move to quarterly payments (so that you’re only hunting down checks every 3 months) or invest in a system where you can automatically charge their account – businesses do it all the time!


The offense: Wants the moon and the stars on a shoestring budget

In my personal experience, these clients have been among my smallest accounts, yet ate up more of my time than clients paying 10x as much! They are great at micromanaging and wearing you down with negotiations on your pricing and requests for “just one more thing.” While you always want to under-promise and over-deliver for your clients, this business model is simply not sustainable.

What you wish you could say: “You are impossible to please and we’re losing money on you.”

What you should say: “I’ve carefully considered my workload and unfortunately I can no longer accommodate your needs at this time.”

Words of wisdom: The first red flag that you’re dealing with this type of client often occurs as early as contract negotiation. They may try to talk you down on price while refusing to take out any of the services you propose. Use your gut to decide whether to proceed with working with them, but keep in mind that the relationship cannot go on if you are constantly taking a loss each month on their billable hours versus the amount they are actually paying you. It’s not fair to you or to your other clients.


The offense: Verbally abusive

In personal relationships, we are far less likely to accept verbal abuse; yet so often we allow this to go on for far too long in business relationships. This type of client is one that is directly or indirectly demeaning and negative towards you or your staff. They may yell and swear at you, threaten you, or ever so subtly and indirectly put down your work. Whether the verbal abuse is obvious or subliminal, you cannot stay in this relationship.

What you wish you could say: “I dread interacting with you and no amount of money could offset the emotional damage you have caused.”

What you should say: “I strive to provide my clients with the best service possible and unfortunately I am no longer able to do that for you because of the difference in our work cultures and communication styles.”

Words of wisdom: The bottom line is no one ever deserves to be verbally abused and you must end a client relationship immediately if this occurs. I promise you, it never gets better. No amount of money is worth this stress.


The offense: Doesn’t respect time or boundaries

This type of client is toxic because they can really disrupt your work-life balance. They don’t respect your time by expecting you to meet tight deadlines, canceling meetings at the last minute, asking you to start a project and then changing directions or failing to get you the information you need to do your job. They also encroach on boundaries by expecting you to be available in the evenings and on the weekends and to be doing work for them during this time.

What you wish you could say: “You may pay me for my time, but you don’t control all of it. I need time to do other things that simply don’t involve you.”

What you should say: “It’s one of my top priorities to provide adequate time and attention to all of my clients. Due to my current workload, I am unable to commit to the hours you need from me and I cannot continue our partnership.”

Words of wisdom: There will come a time when important projects require you to work late into the evenings or on the weekends. However, this should not be the case for most of this client’s projects. If they insist that all of their work is propriety, where does that leave your other clients on your list? While you may be doing work for your clients, you are still your own boss and must maintain a sense of control over your time by letting go of clients who don’t respect these necessary boundaries.


The offense: Bigger problems are brewing within the business

This client wants you to have the magic solution to fix all of the problems within their business even when this task goes far beyond your area of expertise. For example, the client is asking for a new website, but really this is merely a bandage on a gaping wound of mismanagement, a weak business model and an unhealthy company culture.

What you wish you could say: “You are a mix bag of problems and bad decisions. It would take an entire overhaul of your business to prevent you from inevitable bankruptcy.”

What you should say: “While I would be happy to provide you with services that fall within my area of expertise, it’s come to my attention that you need help in additional areas that would impact the success of my work. At this time, I cannot take on your project until you have first resolved these other important matters.”

Words of wisdom: No one has all the answers – or expects anyone else to. If your client looks to you to be their marketing director as well as their business partner, investor, therapist and cheerleader…don’t walk away, run! Unless they acknowledge a good understanding of these other problems and demonstrate their determination to fix them, this is a toxic relationship that will only bring you both down.

Have you ever had to make the tough decision to fire a client? What was the determining factor and how did you handle it? Share your experiences by commenting below! 

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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How Public Relations is Different than Marketing

how-public-relations-is-different-than-marketing

If you use public relations tactics and hope to get results that really only marketing can produce, you’re going to be frustrated and likely begin to doubt the effectiveness of using PR to grow your business. The same is true if you mistakenly use marketing tactics and hope to get results that are more PR-related.

So what do you need to know? Let’s cut to the chase and set the record straight on the biggest and most important differences between public relations and marketing. This is not to say there won’t be exceptions to the rule. There always are. But for the sake of drawing a clear line, take these statements with a grain of salt.

Marketing is proactive. Public relations is reactive.

Marketing is almost always planned and purchased well in advance. Whether that’s a direct mail piece or promotional materials. When needed, public relations can be reactive in an effort to solve a problem, address a concern or announce something newsworthy. As a PR professional, I would certainly advocate to not make your PR efforts solely reactive. That’s as silly as it is dangerous. Public relations can and should be both proactive and reactive; however, marketing is rarely if ever reactive.

Marketing is business. Public relations is communications.

Here me out on this one. At Penn State (and likely at many other colleges across the world), my major of public relations was housed in the College of Communications, along with other majors like advertising and journalism. Marketing, however, was in the College of Business. This may seem trivial, but really it can help you understand just how closely marketing is linked to business and public relations is linked to communications. From the time someone begins to formally study one of these industries, they are placed on one of two very different paths.

Marketing changes your bottom line. Public relations changes public perception.

If you want to know if you marketing tactics are working, look at your bottom line. How have they impacted sales? On the other hand, quantifying your public relations efforts isn’t so straightforward. A good PR strategy will help to positively change the public’s perception of your brand. This can be tracked in various ways including focus groups and customer surveys, but the data tends to be harder and more expensive to obtain than simply pulling last quarter’s sales numbers.

Marketing is focused on sales. Public relations is focused on relationships.

If you remember nothing else, remember that marketing is growing sales and public relations is growing relationships. By growing relationships, this often leads to greater sales – which is why marketing and PR work well to support one another – but this is not the main focus. This understanding is critical because all too often I run into clients who are disappointed that PR isn’t producing higher sales, when that’s not its number one objective! If your focus is sales, look to marketing and if your focus is increasing good will with your customers, look to PR. Both will work together to grow your brand, but in their own unique way.

Still struggling to differentiate when to use Public Relations and when to use Marketing to grow your business and brand? Ask a question and let us help you answer it!

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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5 Things I’m Doing to Have the Best Year Ever

This week’s blog was written by Bennis Inc’s PR Assistant and Photographer, Danielle Gouger. Click here to learn more about Danielle’s passion and expertise!


5-things-im-doing-to-have-the-best-year-ever

5 Things I’m Doing to Have the Best Year Ever

What defines a great year? For me, it’s challenging myself with new opportunities, improving my health and well-being and spending more time doing things I love with people I love. 2016 may or may not end up being “my best year ever.” What it really comes to is mindset. I’m choosing to put my energy into doing things that will make this year better than the year before, and for that reason 2016 has a pretty good shot at being awesome – regardless of what life might throw my way!

So what am I doing to have the best year ever? Take a look…

Healthy Mind, Body, And Soul

The last few years have been a turning point in my life that has resulted in a lot of changes. From becoming a mom four years ago and single-handedly helping to care for my mother who has had a struggle with multiple health issues, I haven’t had a lot of time to focus on myself. So 2016 has really been the year of turning 30 and learning the importance of making time to take care of myself as much as I make time to care for others. I have recently joined a gym and plan to pursue fitness and make my health a priority. This is this first step toward a healthy mind, body and soul and I’m so excited for this next chapter!

Pursuing Career Path

Ultimately I want to work in the photography field, and although I am not quite there yet, I feel I have learned so much over the last several months on working in the Public Relations industry! I have a clearer direction of where I am headed and what it will take to get there. I plan on utilizing the rest of this year to set myself on the right path for the future of my career. I am just starting this journey, but am happy that I have discovered my true passion. I am getting serious about goal setting, both short-term and long-term, and am determined more than ever to work to my full potential!

Making More Time to Connect with Family & Friends

Since becoming a mom myself, I have truly realized the importance of being connected with family and friends and investing in these relationships. This year in particular, I have begun to reestablish a relationship with my father, which means the world to me. This has also helped me to reexamine my other relationships and to work toward staying connected with those who contribute to my life in a positive way.

Pursuing a Passion

In lieu of working on myself mentally and physically this year, I have made time for one of my favorite hobbies and passion in life, which is live music. Before the demands of motherhood, I used to see a lot of great live bands by going to concerts and shows as much as I could. By allowing myself time for me this year, I have made it a priority to bring back that passion and adventure that really sets my soul on fire. In fact, I have put a checkmark on my bucket list this year, by attending a Paul McCartney concert, which happens to be, hands down, the best concert of my life thus far!

Traveling

Until this year I used to consider myself a gypsy, as I moved around a lot and was never truly able to settle in some place I could call home. I believe in a lot of ways that had to do with having the itch to travel and experience new places and people. As much as I love to travel, I recognized my need for establishing a home base. One of the greatest blessings this year is becoming a homeowner. I plan to balance the stability of having a home with the adventure of continuing to travel as much as I can. I couldn’t think of a better way to end the year than by taking my daughter to Disneyland for the very first time for her birthday in November! It’s truly a magical place where everyone can be a kid at heart.

What can you do to make 2016 your best year ever? It’s not too late to stating making some changes now that you’ll be proud to have accomplished before 2017.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2016 in Life

 

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How Public Relations is different than Advertising

PR vs Advertising

So often lines are blurred when it comes to Public Relations and Advertising. While the two certainly overlap, there are distinct differences that determine how and when you should use them in your communications strategy.

A solid plan can and should have elements of both, but it’s important to understand their unique roles and seek out different professionals to represent each one to ensure you’re not using Advertising to solve a Public Relations problem or vice versa.  Take a look at our simple, but helpful overview of these two industries.

Public Relations is…

Earned

Public Relations is also referred to as earned media or earned placement. You don’t pay for the specific placement of content, but there are other costs associated with issuing media relations and content creation that often comes in the form of paying a PR professional to create and disseminate this for you. However, compared to true advertising costs for the same size placement, PR is often a much more cost-effective option.

Viewed as objective

The goal of Public Relations is to garner earned media such as a newspaper article or news segment based upon the information you share in your media advisory or press release. Ultimately, it’s the media outlet producing this content for you, with their byline. As a result, readers or viewers often see this content as more objective (as objective as media can be, right?) than paid advertising which gives it trust and credibility.

Not always in your control

And while free and credible content are both great aspects of Public Relations, it’s important to remember that on the flip side, you are not in full control what’s written about you. Issuing a press release doesn’t mean a reporter will choose to republish every last detail you include. A good PR professional will carefully monitor how the media interprets your story and quickly react if there’s anything inaccurate or undesirable.

Advertising is…

Paid

Most obviously, Advertising costs money. You buy placement when you want it and how you want it. Every media outlet has their own department of sales reps to accommodate this very industry. They are constantly putting together new and enticing ad packages to get businesses to “pay for play.”

Viewed as subjective

Your audience will almost always know that an advertisement is paid placement. In a magazine, articles are marked as “advertisement” or “sponsored content.” On TV, a commercial spot is obviously different from a real news segment. Regardless of how truthful your ad is, your audience will view it with a bit more skepticism because they know you paid for placement and can (generally) say whatever you want.

In your control

Because you pay for specific placement of specific content, Advertising is a lot more controlled than Public Relations. You know exactly when an ad or story will run and what it will look like or say. Although the price of placement can be steep, you fully control your message.

Do you work in either the PR or advertising industry? What other differences would you say are most important?

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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