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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