You don’t know me!

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No, seriously, you don’t. You might have a clue about the ballpark range of my age because of my photo here, you know where I work (because I’ve told you), and you know that I at least have a degree in Public Relations.

So why are you still reading this post? Who says I’m the authority here?

Allow me to explain the questions I pose . . . .

I recently had a conversation with my Aunt Jane and explained to her how great Twitter is, and how I’ve caught the “blogging bug.” But I think the major point I stressed to her was the enormous amount of opportunity for young folks to position themselves as experts, no matter what it might be in. For Pete’s sake, there were about 100 or so nominees from Len Kendall’s 30 Under 30 Tweeters, so someone is taking notice of these “youngin’s” out there! And most of us know one or two twenty-somethings that have in excess of 20,000 followers on Twitter.

Let it be said, I really dislike when people self-label themselves as “expert” or “guru.” Fellow PRBC member TJ Dietderich especially hates “maven.” Ha! She continues (and I completely agree), “I just don’t believe people who call themselves those things; I believe OTHER people who call them those things.” So if you offer fantastic resources, information and are an all-around super-star at what you do, and someone deems you worthy, then by all means (in my opinion), run with it! . . . And continue to deliver.

So have the days passed when you had to be a seasoned vet to be considered a PR expert? Is it a good thing that such fresh faces have been able to stake their claim? When did this happen and why did we “allow” it?

Being biased, because yes, I am in that under-30 category, I think having young people positioning (if not branding) themselves as PR experts is a positive thing, so long as that privilege of having a loyal band of followers is not abused. Young people can offer new and innovative ideas regarding trends and practices in PR . . . perhaps more risky than our more experienced counterparts. On the other hand, we must recognize the PR legacies which have come before us and honor what they have taught us. This industry has had its ups and downs and would not be what it is today were it not for the well-experienced veterans.

So I ask for your feedback. What is it that allows a young PR person (and please go hog-wild with your definition of young) to label themselves as an expert? Is it Twitter? Is it blogs? Is this beneficial to our industry?

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  • http://twitter.com/KeithTrivitt Keith Trivitt

    Kate, you make some great, great points in this post. To be perfectly honest, I don't think anything allow ANYBODY to label themselves as an “expert” or “guru.” Those are terms that in my opinion should come from your friends, colleagues, associates and generally, anyone other than you. From my own perspective, I'd much rather focus on how I'm contributing to my own personal and professional community. To me, it matters far less to be an expert and far more to be a valuable part of something bigger than yourself.

    I like that you address the fact that technology has allowed those of us still relatively new to our respective careers to quickly take on roles that 10-15 years ago, we never would have even been close to being considered for. I really believe we need to harness that more, and focus on continuing to provide some great value to our community, rather than doing like some have and seeing how we can use it to our ultimate advantage to place ourselves on some kind of list or as a speaker at some conference.

  • brenligh

    I think young PR professionals distinguish ourselves because we come with significant education in the public relations field and are comfortable with new technology tools that allow us to reach audiences for our clients that might not have been possible 10-15 years ago. We know how to do the standard pitch, press conference and press release…but the professional who takes those building blocks and uses their saavy in technology and new communication tools to take their campaign to new heights is the one who has gone a step beyond. My belief is that it's the nature of Gen Y (and those of us who are late Gen X) to quickly adopt new technologies and then figure out how we can make them work for us at work.

    There are many over-30s who do this too. Under-30s get a lot of attention now because we've moved so much faster in the field than our predecessors did before us. Talk to a veteran in the PR field and ask them what role they played in their organization when they were 25…I imagine most would have still been paying their dues with grunt work or they were in a different field – working as a journalist or a business executive. But, I digress.

    It is not the use of blogs or twitter that results in a young PR professional being dubbed an expert. No matter your age, an expert is someone with an arsenal of estbalished and newer communication tools (including social media) who can accurately determine which tools are best for specific campaigns.

  • http://www.onserp.com/ Matt Crouch

    One things that seems to in-part create all of this expert-craze is the “look at me” culture/time we are living in. With all the youtubes, blogs, facebook, twitter, reality tv… everything is about getting attention. And with the short attention span climate we are in, there is major competition and difficulty in succeeding. People can gain successful attention by being unique and creative – it's cliche – but it's true. The thing is nobody wants to put the time into so by adding the Expert / Guru tag, they think its gonna give them instant credibility without working for that credibility. This is of course relates to many that are trying to brand themselves and work to make money. Let's face it, if a customer comes is looking at two businesses and one says they are an expert. Who do you think they will call first. That is just one possibility. I am no expert but I think in many cases this is true.

  • heatherwhaling

    I think our industry is overusing the word “expert,” and consequently devaluing the term. It lacks the weight it once carried.

    Fresh out of college, it's not possible to be a PR “expert.” A young PR pro may be exceptional at what he/she does, with very good instincts, the ability to make tough decisions, but that doesn't make someone an expert. Expertise comes with experience — and that takes time to develop.

    For what it's worth, I'm in my 20s too, so please don't think this is coming from some old person who just wants to preach about how much experience they have. That's not it at all! In fact, I think people in their 30s, 40s and 50s are too quick to call themselves experts, as well. There's a lot that these more seasoned professionals can learn from people new to the field. I wish people in the industry would focus less on catchy sounding titles (i.e., expert, guru, maven, etc), and focus more on demonstrating results. A hearty list of case studies, successful campaigns and satisfied clients is much more meaningful than a self-anointed title.

  • http://www.onserp.com/ Matt Crouch

    Ill just add one minor point in regards to young people. With technology, I think the people that pick it up quicker are the younger people. By the time they are out of college, they might well be very well versed on how to get some stuff done. Yet, they are naive to the bigger picture. Many of us start out young and dumb and full of optimism.

  • kathyhokunson

    Kate-
    It is amazing the speed at which communication moves and what it has offered younger professionals. I am one of those “veterans” and I am in awe of what you “younguns” bring to the table. You are right, no way most of us could have gained the presence or recognition in the marketplace the way you guys have.

    But I also appreciate your recognition of us “old timers” lol. The reality is that there are some very important traits and skills that come from wisdom – time in the trenches. No matter how smart or educated you are it takes time to really learn and understand the important nuances of what we do.

    I really appreciate your comments on the titles “expert” and “mavens”. I have cleaned up many messes created by so called “experts”. The proof is in the success of your clients and the relationships that you build with them. Your reputation, not your title is what is important.

    You go girl!

  • http://twitter.com/PRCog PRCog

    Been drafting this comment for awhile now (I've gone from being potentially first to 7th….)

    It's been tough to distill this one, but suffice it to say the tech tools at our disposal don't just help the young make their mark…they help the anonymous too.

    While making no claims to being an 'expert' or 'guru' at pretty much anything, in just over a year of anonymous twittering so much has changed for my own knowledge in the field, and it seems our PRBC group.

    From a dozen people who may have known 1 other person in the current group there's now this small, but growing, team of young professionals working together to learn and teach each other (and anyone else willing to grab a cup of coffee and sit down) and have some fun along the way. All from nothing more than the collective knowledge and experience of the individual members and a desire to learn and grow.

    May have lost my original point here….but I'm ok with following the tangent occasionally.

    Great Post K

  • heatherwhaling

    I think what's great about your group — and your point — is that it's all about the collective learning process. None of you came to the table thinking you were an expert in this, but you all can share your experiences and points of view — helping teach all of us along the way. :)

  • http://twitter.com/tjdietderich TJ Dietderich

    Kate, you know how I feel about this: calling yourself an expert in social media is like calling yourself an expert in time travel. No one's quite sure how it works yet, so how can you be an expert? You can have a knack for learning new technology and adapting to online culture, but that doesn't make you an expert. That just makes you l33t.

    …Aaaaaaand I've once again out-nerded myself in a professional blog. You've all been great. I'm out.

  • http://twitter.com/missmotorcade sherri haymond

    Great post, Kate – such a hot topic. I think Matt brings up an interesting point – the Gen Y'ers among us are definitely being brought up in a “look at me” culture. Gen Y branding experts (you know who they are…) teach that in order to be successful and stand out in the crowd, you need to become (or at least brand yourself as…) an “expert” at something. Even if you're still in school. You're supposed to have you own personal website; a blog or lifestream or both; be proficient at social media, where you can broadcast to the world your “expert” opinion that you've blogged or lifestreamed or otherwise written/vlogged about. This is just the way the world is now – and so we have a sea of self-proclaimed experts and gurus and *gasp* mavens.

    I agree with Keith and so many others – you can't brand yourself an “expert.” Someone has to do it for you. But even then – at times I'm shocked when I meet someone widely recognized as a thought leader in their field, PR or otherwise, at an event and see that they're 10+ years my junior – sorta tough (and a little disheartening on my end…) since I'm not really that old!

    The advent of social media and other technologies has made it dramatically easier to turn yourself into anything you want to be (Cog's point above). And most of the time, this is a good thing. It means that there's incredible opportunity for success early on – now more than ever. The yougins just have to remember that there's a lot to learn from those who have “been there, done that” before them – even the yougins who've been labeled gurus.

  • Josh_Sternberg

    Love the time travel analogy, but look at it from a different perspective (of which I wrote a few months back):

    When I was a professor of communication, one of the subjects I taught was interpersonal communications; how people interact with one another gives us great insight into the communicative process, obviously. Invariably, the topic of relationships would arise and we would have these great discussions about how people communicate in a relationship. I would ask what makes a relationship work and would get many responses, but the question that would ultimately be asked was, “how can you tell if someone is an expert in relationships?” A very simple, yet exceptionally difficult question to answer. Do we define an expert in relationships someone who has been married for 35 years and can tell you about the positive of relationships? What about someone who's been divorced and can flip the veil to show you the underbelly of relationships? Finally, what about the person who spent 4 years in college, 6 years in graduate school to earn that Ph.D and helps couples learn how to communicate/live better? These are the same issues now with social media. Who do you trust as an expert?
    http://thesternbergeffect.blogspot.com/2009/01/

  • edzizlemizzle

    I do know YOU! haha…
    But I will add: YOU (young whipper snappers-shakes finger) are the experts because of your “head down, hand to the plow approach”….young PR peeps don’t know everything but take the time to ask questions, which means they are more open to trends and change and less likely to say ”I know it all already”

  • lenkendall

    Thanks for the mention. Hope to grow it even more in volume 2!

  • http://www.twitter.com/kottavio Kate Ottavio

    Thanks for your comment, Brenda! To expand on your point about “saavy in technology and new communication tools,” we can also use these tools to broadcast to others the work we are producing, right? Self-promotional, yes (it then becomes a separate effort from promoting our clients), but still the same skill set.

  • http://www.twitter.com/kottavio Kate Ottavio

    Great point about Social ME-dia here, Matt.

    The expert point you bring up makes me think of that line in Tommy Boy…something along the lines of “I can put a guarantee of a box of (eh hem) 'poo' and it's still poo.” haha!

  • http://www.twitter.com/kottavio Kate Ottavio

    I’m so glad you allowed me to add your $.02 to my blog post before it went up, TJ. It would have really been lacking for sure. You made it all come together with your thoughts on self-labeling. Thank you!!

  • http://www.twitter.com/kottavio Kate Ottavio

    Ha! Yes, yes you do :)

    I hope most of us have the “head down” approach. A dangerous result of this “young expertise” could be that we stop asking questions and don’t look to our experienced mentors for help when we need it…and start thinking, heck, convincing ourselves that we know it all. We don’t!

    Thanks for your comment, Ed. You might have just spawned an entirely new blog post!

  • JRkent

    I think the technology boom of the last 15 or so years has proven that young people can be expects, but they must be experts in something very focused. Time and time again great technology ideas have come with terrible business savvy and direction on how to be effective and profitable (Does anyone reading this still use Napster or Netscape?

  • http://twitter.com/PRCog PRCog

    Hi JR -

    Welcome to the blog. I hope we can expect to see you around in the future as well.

    My response to your comment got a bit long and I followed a few of the side discussion so I ended up making my response a separate blog post over at my blog. For the full response feel free to head on over there at …

    http://prcog.wordpress.com/2009/09/07/too-long-

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  • http://www.twitter.com/kottavio Kate Ottavio

    One should not talk about Twitter, unless one is on Twitter. That is all.

    I'm just saying… ;)

  • http://www.twitter.com/kottavio Kate Ottavio

    One should not talk about Twitter, unless one is on Twitter. That is all.

    I'm just saying… ;)

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