Leading clients is a contact sport. It’s one of the phrases that stuck with me after I first heard it while at Account Executive College.
Just call me Tod. I’m serious. I’m a public relations and marketing professional, I’m not a professor. So, I’m not Professor Tod or Professor Meisner. I don’t have or want my doctorate, so I’m not Dr. Meisner. I’m also not Mr. Meisner. That’s reserved for my father, a high school teacher and coach for 35-plus years in Raymond, IL. I can’t live up to that name and won’t try. So yes, please just call me Tod. It’s perfectly OK and I’ve answered to it my whole life.
Now that I have that details of the way, I’d like to share some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned (so far) as a college professor. To rewind, last summer I was approached about teaching a section of “Style and Design in Public Relations Messages” at Auburn University. I had known Terri Knight, Lecturer and Interim Associate Director of Public Relations for Auburn’s School of Communication & Journalism, for a few years and she knew I was interested in being an adjunct if the timing was right.
The timing was right at the end of the spring semester last year when she knew she would need a third section for Style and Design in the fall. She pegged me as the perfect practitioner to fill this opening and we set up lunch appointment to make sure we were on the same page.
Work, Hard Work
I knew it would be a lot of work and a big time commitment. But, something in me knew I had to commit to this. Both of my parents were educators and I think deep down I realize that I may have missed my calling to be a teacher. This was my time to see if I was right and also step out of my comfort zone a little bit.
The most rewarding part for me personally from my time at Verge Pipe Media in Auburn was working with our young interns. I still felt young enough (or young enough at heart) that I was relatable, but could still impart on them lessons I've learned in my professional career to date. I wanted to be able to do this with more students, and I wanted to have some control over the curriculum I would be teaching. Luckily, Terri had the same ideas in mind as I did and we agreed I would teach the section for the fall semester.
As the 2017 fall semester winds down and I approach the end of my first stint as a teacher, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher, coach, or the CMO of your company. These are leadership lessons that can help you be the best version of yourself. Without further delay, here are the lessons I’ve learned (so far) as a college professor.
I Can Do This
Without a doubt, I know that I can teach at the college level now. Whatever self-doubt I may have had before is gone. While I won’t go so far as to say I nailed every lecture along the way, or had all the answers, I know now I can teach at the highest level. If I’m teaching on a topic that I’m both knowledgeable about and have a passion for, I can excel. Plus, I will only get better! I feel like I learned just as much as the students and that’s a good thing.
Teach As You’d Want To Be Taught
This nugget was told to me early and often as I sought out advice from many people on how to succeed. I had to think back about teachers and leaders that I liked (and disliked) and make a list of “do’s and don’ts.” As I’m learning in Kevin DeShazo’s CORE Leadership classes, you must know yourself to lead yourself. Or in this case, know your team to lead your team.
I tried to take that approach each class and present the material and use my knowledge in a way that I’d want it presented to me. Along the way, as I learned about the students, I was able to adjust my approach and present to them how they responded the best.
Higher Ed PR Curriculum Needs Updating
From recent interactions in the classroom and during my work for a higher education focused marketing agency, it has become clear there is a massive shortage in Inbound trained job candidates, especially those entering the workforce directly from college. This means we need to change the approach on how to teach marketing and PR in the classroom.
I’m not calling for the end of the traditional college experience, but I am calling for the inclusion of at least one Inbound Marketing class for all marketing and PR majors. We should be training our next wave of practitioners how to grow responsible website traffic, write buyer personas, create remarkable content and offers, etc. Even for PR majors! Times are changing and it will serve PR majors well to learn these skills while in college to add to their skillset.
Problem Solving Skills
This is something that took me by surprise as I neared the end of the semester. I sensed a change in students’ moods as they were juggling multiple deadlines and class projects. So I was glad that I had built in some work days for them to concentrate on their website project for the class. I then began to learn that their problem solving skills seemed to be missing on these days. I kid, I kid.
But, I know they possess these skills. When given the chance to work in class and ask me extra questions, it was apparent they wanted me to “tell them how to do it.” I had a lot of “this used to look like this and now it doesn’t” or “I’m trying to fix this and then I messed up this.” It was a lesson for me in showing them how to work through difficulties. How to write things down as they do them, so when they need repeated, you have a process handy. It was frustrating that their default was to take the easy way out and say “you do it,” but it was a teaching opportunity for me to help reinforce problem solving skills for them.
The Obvious May Not Be Obvious
At times, I found myself getting frustrated when students weren’t performing as I’d anticipated. Then I realized I probably hadn’t communicated the class expectations clearly. I’ve learned I need to spell things out pretty clearly and leave out any ambiguity. In a class where you create a lot of content, I wanted to give the students some creative freedom. But, that’s a double-edged sword because too much freedom for the students sent them into a paralysis where they wanted more direction from me. Lesson learned: Students are bright and capable but require clear expectations.
Students sometimes claim they are overworked (although the problem is often poor time management on their part). When class is cancelled, they rejoice. In that spirit, students may also look for places to exploit loopholes — like inconsistencies in a syllabus that could allow them to miss class or turn in a paper late without penalty. Those situations are tricky to handle. Two things helped me: setting a firm deadline for everything and outlining the consequences for missing it. Without such specificity, students may decide there are no penalties.
Ask Your Students
When in doubt, just ask your students. About halfway through the semester I decided to take a temperature check and see what they liked and what else they’d like to learn. To my delight, they offered up great lecture topics and also made other excellent suggestions. What a revelation! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Why not harness their collective brainpower? Naturally, not every last detail of a course can be driven by students. But there are multiple areas in which students can become equal partners in the educational process.
Showing Up Is Half The Battle
I’ve written about this one in long form. But, I must reiterate it again. Showing up is half the battle. In life, for work and in higher education. I placed hard and firm deadlines on the students and told them that a lot would be expected of them. They would have to produce a lot and showing up would help.
Sound familiar? Probably kind of like every job you’ve ever had. For college professors reading this, if you are able, structure your class as close to a real job as possible. Impart they must show up, get their shit done, get it done well and soon they’ll be rewarded in time.
As I wrap this up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank those who helped me during this opening semester. If it wasn’t for Karen Freberg, Chris Yandle, Derrick Docket, my sisters Kelly Klopp and Kristin Seed, the aforementioned DeShazo and Knight and my amazing wife Megan, I’m not sure I could have survived. With their help and encouragement, I was able navigate the semester and bring a fresh perspective to the class that the students seemed to enjoy.
I hope to be asked to contribute to a section of this class again and
apply the lessons I’ve learned (so far) as a college professor. I’m a firm believer that one must continue to learn throughout one’s life and career. I say that because life never stops teaching, so you must always keep up. I look forward to teaching the next group of students and the opportunity to learn just as much from them as they do from me.
This article was originally published by Front Office Sports.
Succeeding in your career is sometimes as easy as being present.
If there is one thing that was reinforced during my time as an adjunct professor during the fall of 2017 for Auburn University, it’s that being present and showing up is half the battle. I told my students on day one that attendance would not be taken. There would be penalties for missing a certain number of classes, but I wouldn’t call roll every class. I wanted to expose my students as close to real life as possible. Be present, show up, do your work, do it well and go home.
As I near the end of the semester, it is becoming apparent to those that may have rolled their eyes when I initially told them “showing up is half the battle,” that I was serious. A select few have inched way too close to getting penalized and are finding out that they’re behind on their final projects. What exactly do I mean when I say “show up and be present?”
I’ll paraphrase from the awesome book 5 Gears. All too often people go through life without truly connecting. This leads to missing out on experiences and relationships that have the power to bring them great joy. By understanding how to be fully present when needed, you can improve your ability to connect with the world around you.
As we approach the end of 2017, students and professionals alike are setting goals for personal and professional success in 2018. I have placed an emphasis on showing up this semester in class. In order to succeed, personally or professionally, showing up and being present must be part of your action plan.
As someone who sets high expectations for success, I let the students know from day one that the course would consist primarily of content production. Students would gain knowledge from lectures and from the content they produced. Ultimately, they would be creating many assignments outside of class.
Assignments ranged from obtaining a variety of inbound and content marketing certificates, to blog writing, to simple graphic design projects. The final project was a WordPress responsive website featuring the content and certifications they produced. Many of the more dense lectures were covered early in the semester.
The Canvas portal was filled with resources to help answer questions outside of class. Students could begin on the website early in the semester and were encouraged not to wait until the last minute. I say all this to emphasize the importance of being present for classes and taking advantage of the materials provided.
This should be enough to pass the class. Be present, show up, listen, ask the right questions, meet the deadlines and you will receive the majority of the points for the class.
I lectured on “real life” instances to help the students understand how what I was saying would be applicable. I tried to lead them the way I wanted to be led when I was their age. Many times I said once they get hired in the “real world” they will be expected to show up and to provide value.
Their chances of succeeding in the ROI-driven world of marketing and public relations today will depend on whether they can bring in money/results for their company and also provide value. I asked questions like:
- Will you be a return on investment for the company?
- Are you bringing in numbers?
- Does your work help attract the right personas?
- Are you generating leads or sales?
- Are you generating the right coverage?
It no longer matters if they’re the first one in the office as long as the work is completed on time, the numbers are sufficient and the quality of work is phenomenal. Most jobs in the industry today offer work from home or telecommuting options which allow for greater flexibility.
Be present, show up (whether in the office or not), get your work done, do it well and you’ll be rewarded in time. If you’re doing what you love and are confident in your work, it shouldn’t feel like a battle anyhow.
Always Show Up
Young professionals, if you don’t believe me yet, I’ll leave you with this. One of the blogs my students are required to write is a letter to their freshman or younger self. Since my class is full of seniors, my hope was to offer a chance for them to reflect on how they’ve grown in four years. A popular letter to a younger self floating out there on the interwebs and I’ll use it to drive this home.
Here’s an excerpt from 10-time NBA All-Star and 2-time NBA Champion Ray Allen’s recent letter to his 13-yer-old self. Let me know if you notice anything.
“Sometimes you’ll be afraid. Sometimes you’ll think you’re out of your league. But you’ll keep showing up every day, putting in the work. You’ll put up more than 26,000 shots in your career. Almost six out of 10 won’t even go in. I told you this game was a sonofabitch. Don’t worry, though. A successful man is built of 1,000 failures. Or in your case, 14,000 misses. You’ll win a championship in Boston.”
Being present and showing up is half the battle. So be present. Keep showing up. Good things will happen. I promise.
In the past, I’ve compared looking for a new job to playing the dating game. You’re ultimately trying to find a new spark and connection that will hopefully lead to commitment. This isn’t an easy process. Whether you are dating different people or going on two job interviews per week, the time and energy spent can be exhausting.
Most times you want to have an instant spark so you can move on with your new relationship. The problem is that nothing moves fast. I’ve told you that part before. You can expect to possibly be on the job hunt around six to eight months. But, I wanted to expand on job hunting a little bit and let you in on a little secret.
There’s a secret code phrase used in the HR and job hunt world that is thrown around like candy. At first it will give you hope, but ultimately you will know that it just means more waiting. You better get used to hearing one phrase…“two weeks.”
Two weeks. Doesn’t sound that bad does it? It sounds like a perfectly reasonable time frame and speed at which a big decision such as a hiring should take. It’s just like Tom Hanks in The Money Pit though, and “two weeks” starts to become just a saying, not a reality. Two weeks is about the fastest anyone will move, and many times I’ve learned the phrase can be a place holder so they have something to tell you when you ask about the timeline for a decision.
From the initial contact you have with a potential employer, to scheduling that first interview, to ultimately meeting the hiring manager in person (if you make it that far), you will need to allow at least two weeks. You just have to. You must be aware of that and be prepared to play the long game. All companies move at different speeds, and more often than not each speed is slower than the last one you encountered. Even if a company appears to be nearing a decision quickly, I can almost guarantee you that just the decision making process alone may take at least two weeks.
Control What You Can Control
You must understand there are many factors at play in a process like this. You also have to remember you’re not always aware of what is happening on the side of the employer or with the hiring manager. The hiring manager may be playing by a set of rules they can’t control that is dictated by internal factors. Maybe something came up personally for one of the people involved and the decision is delayed. This type of information may or may not be relayed to you. This is why it is important to build a solid relationships with your point of contact at HR.
In my experiences, most HR professionals are very helpful and will guide you through the process if you keep in touch with them regularly. Ask questions about the company or position each time, along with the status of the pending decision. Ask them how they are and be conversational. I would pass this advice to anyone. You can never reach out to the HR folks enough while waiting for a decision. It will show your willingness to work for them.
I recently had an experience where I was interviewing in person for the second time. I felt like I had played all of my cards right and this was going to be the engagement that sealed the deal. He assured me that they were moving quickly because they needed to fill this position to begin some new marketing initiatives. When I asked him “how quick” is “quick” he said I’ll be making a decision “this week.”
That interview was on a Wednesday. Even though I knew that was an ambitious timeline and was a bit skeptical, who was I to not take him at his word. Then Friday came and went with no word from HR. I reached out to HR on the following Monday and was assured no decision had been made. I reached out to HR again heading into the weekend and got the same assurance. But now one week had passed.
The next Monday went by with no word. I reached out on Wednesday to HR for an update and still was told they had no update because the hiring manager hadn’t told them of his decision. So now “quick” is at the ever-popular two week mark. It wasn’t until the following week, nearly three weeks later, when I was finally told of the decision. And sadly for me, I wasn’t the one chosen.
However, because of my relationship with the HR contact, I didn’t feel like I was being strung along. I trusted her that there were factors beyond her control delaying the decision.
I tell you all this not to scare you or come off as bitter or cynical. I’m telling you this to prepare you for the grind that is the job hunt. You can’t allow the long process to get you down. You must persevere and use the tools I’ve been equipping you with to stay positive. For me that has been utilizing my network of support, praying, eating right, working out and writing for outlets such as this one.
Because I have stayed true to my beliefs and my approach, I know that I am nearing a breakthrough in my search. Even if it has taken a long time to make some gains, I feel like I’m about to leap over the goal line for a touchdown. If anyone else is tired of constantly hearing “two weeks” and would like to discuss how to stay aggressive on the job hunt, feel free to reach out in the comments, on Twitter or drop me a line.
As I’ve stated before, I’m no expert, nor do I have all the answers. But through my writing and experiences, I hope to be able to help someone facing a similar situation. If I can help anyone, in any way, I’d be more than happy!