Taking Time Out to Teach

DeskDuring my television viewing/live blogging of “Kell on Earth,” a familiar situation reared its head – a staffer was complaining that she was never trained to do the job, and admitted that she had no idea what was supposed to do. When the supervisor showed up and noticed it was all done the wrong way, the poor staffer sure got an earful. Was it the staffer’s fault for not asking, or the supervisor’s fault for not teaching?

Let’s face it, in the world of public relations, we are incredibly busy people. Between press releases, client meetings, strategic planning sessions, e-mails, phone calls, media lists – there is no question that we have a lot on our plate.

When we get an intern or a junior staff member, usually we are chomping at the bit for that extra hand to help out. However, sometimes we are so preoccupied with getting our jobs done, when we pass off some work to someone else, we forget that person might not know what to do or what the expectations are.  The result: the individual may end up making a huge mistake or doing something disastrous, and you end up completely frustrated.

Despite how crazed we might be, I think it’s important to take time out to teach and provide guidance to PR newbies, especially when they are so eager to learn.

So, let’s play a game! Meet Darcy, my new fake intern. Here are a few situations where I can take some time out to teach:

Give direction: “Hey Darcy, can you write a press release on the new bunny pajama line?” Then three hours later, Darcy sends you the press release. You look it over and think to yourself “What the heck is this? This is totally not what I was looking for. Darcy just wasted three whole hours writing this.” Wait a second, you actually didn’t tell Darcy what you were looking for. It’s important when assigning a task that you try and be as specific as possible, especially when the intern/employee is new – give examples, discuss the format, talk about what the client and the agency likes/dislikes in a press release.

Don’t make assumptions: I should never assume Darcy knows how to do everything. Everyone comes in with different levels of experience. Heck, before my first job in public relations, I had never in my life taken a PR class or written a press release. Anytime you dole out an assignment, its okay to ask Darcy “Hey, have you ever done this before?” If she looks totally confused, take a few moments to walk her through the project.

Mix it up: We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I’m great at strategy, but it takes me forever to write a press release. When I’m working with someone that’s new to the PR game, I like to give them a variety of different tasks to do. One day I might ask Darcy to do some research, the next day I’ll have her write a press release, and so on. Not only is this a great way to discover what Darcy excels at and what she needs to work on, but Darcy is excited because she’s getting to do a variety of tasks and truly experiencing  the crazy world of public relations.

Make Yourself Available: I am the first to admit that I look pretty intense when I’m working. The first thing I’m going to tell Darcy is “I might be really busy and crazy throughout the day, but don’t be afraid to ask me a question or come to me if you need more explanation.” If I really don’t have time at that particular moment, I offer to set some time aside to sit down with her and answer any questions she might have.

So  readers, do you think it’s important to take time out to provide guidance to junior staff members? Do you have any examples of how you turned certain situations into teachable moments?

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  • Elissa Freeman

    How true is this! Every seasoned PR pro should read this post; not only do we need to fulfill our tasks at hand, but it's also important to ensure the up and coming generation of PR pros is as confident and capable of doing the job.

  • marieveebee

    Thanks Elissa for your comment. I'm glad that you found the post helpful 🙂

  • What a great post! At the last company I worked for, we were extremely short staffed for the better part of the last year I worked there. Like any company trying to survive in a struggling economy, upper management decided to try to handle the work the staff couldn't get to, by passing it to our new interns.

    Unfortunately, each time new interns came on none of the staff that had requested their own interns had time to train them (to be fair, most had “absorbed” at least two positions into their own at that point). The last set of untrained interns I worked with ended up costing the company more than 50 hours of work trying to fix the things that the interns weren't properly trained to do. (Obviously that was a bigger time/money loss than if the specific project had been distributed through out the team…) In this specific case, our interns were wickedly intelligent- and had they simply been taught what the company/client wanted included and how the project should appear at the end, it would have been done well and saved the company a lot of time and money.

  • And after all that, drop the line “Coffee Please, black, 1 sweet-n-low” thx.

  • jeffespo

    Mary, you may have hit the nail on the head and this is an issues that I have seen myself do without thinking only to kick myself in the ass at the end for not taking the time.

    After all isn't our job to be teachers of some sorts anyway?

  • marieveebee

    It's Marie but I can forgive you. 🙂

  • jeffespo

    Sorry for the typo.

  • Yes! I love this! I was just thinking about this today as my three-month review at my first big girl job is this week. I have to manage interns for the first time ever, and it has definitely been more of a learning experience for me than for them!

    I always find myself saying, “well this makes sense in my head!” But I still struggle to articulate everything I expect when I give an intern a task. It's a constant learning curve. And I love it!

    Thanks for all the great advice. 🙂

  • I get mad when my coffee is messed up!

  • kidding people

  • kind of

  • marieveebee

    Thanks Rebecca for your comment! It's so true that managing/supervising is definitely a learning experience. You also make a great point that what makes sense in our heads might not make sense to others – especially those that are still learning.

  • Kristen

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. I believe that all of the success in my career is due in large part to the experienced PR pros mentoring me and taking the time to explain and answer my questions when I first entered the business. Entering the business world after college I knew VERY little about what to expect and what they expected of me – other than success. Luckily I had an amazing group of bosses and colleagues who realized if they took the 10 extra minutes to explain something to me I was in the end going to make their lives easier. It is something I tell the folks I manage – if they have a question ASK! I don't mind taking the time to explain to ensure the task is done right – and they learn.

    This post can also be a reminder and help to seasoned PR pros entering a new job. Sometimes an agency or company has a way they like to do things and often times it may take that experienced PR person a few days to understand the methods the agency employs. No matter where you are in your career there is going to be some sort of learning curve. Or maybe that is just my personal experience 😉


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