Grace Lavigne

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    • Member Type(s): Content Publisher
      Communications Professional
      Media - Print Journalist
      Media - Web-only/Blogger
      Media - Other
    • Title:Associate Web Editor
    • Organization:The Journal of Commerce
    • Area of Expertise:Writing, Editing, Social Media
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    Grammar Hammer: The Rules of Capitalization

    Thursday, October 13, 2011, 2:36 PM [Grammar Hammer]
    0 (0 Ratings)

    Author and journalist Joan Didion once said: "Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power." Grammar clarifies communication and gives credibility to the writer -- so while it's necessary to follow the rules, it's also necessary to fine tune your rules to each situation and audience to guarantee clarity.

    Via this column, we'll explore one grammar rule each week. If you have a grammar question you'd like me to address, please drop me a line at grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com and I'll do my best to answer it.

    Today we'll address the rules of capitalization. We all (hopefully) know that we should capitalize proper nouns (which are one-of-a-kind words like New Jersey or Barack Obama), but sometimes the rules of capitalization in more specific environments can get a little fuzzy. Here are some frequent mistakes:

     

    Nouns that can be proper or common, like the "earth" vs. "Earth":

    • The earth smells like rain and roses. (earth = dirt, ground)
    • The Earth looks beautiful from space. (Earth = specific planet)
    • I live in a white house, but I don't live in the White House (I only wish I did).

     

    Capitalize a person's title when it precedes their name, but do not capitalize the title if it's acting as a description following the name:

    • President Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009. / Barack Obama, president of the United States, was inaugurated in 2009.
    • ProfNet Editor Jason Hahn reads queries. / Jason Hahn, ProfNet editor, reads queries. (ProfNet remains capitalized because it's a proper noun.)
    • CEO Larry Page founded Google. / Larry Page, CEO, founded Google. (CEO remains capitalized because it's an acronym.)

     

    Is it "mom and dad" or "Mom and Dad"?

    • Mom and Dad are going to be so mad.
    • My mom and dad are going to be so mad.

    The trick here is to replace "Mom and Dad" or "mom and dad" with names:

    • George and Lynne are going to be so mad. (Correct)
    • My George and Lynne are going to be so mad. (Wrong -- therefore "mom and dad" would not be capitalized)

     

    Names of holidays are capitalized, but the word "holiday" is not:

    • Halloween is my favorite holiday because I love to scare people.

     

    Months and days of the week are capitalized, but seasons are not:

    • My favorite season is fall. My favorite month is October.
    • I love Saturdays in the summer! (Who doesn't?)

     

    Diseases are not capitalized unless there is a person associated with the name:

    • My grandmother has Alzheimer's disease. (named after Alois Alzheimer)
    • She has arthritis and diabetes.
    • I don't want to get pancreatic cancer.

     

    Compass directions are always lowercase; regions are always uppercases:

    • We're headed east to my house. (direction)
    • My house is in the East. (region)

     

    Lowercase academic subjects, unless referring to a specific class or a class associated with a language:

    • I love math. (general subject)
    • I loathe History 101. (specific class)
    • I major in English. (associated with a language)

     

    Degrees are lowercase too, unless they are formal names:

    • I received my master's degree in 2009. (general reference)
    • I received my Master of Arts in 2009. (specific name of the degree)
    • I received my M.A. in 2009. (acronym)

    Dear Gracie: How and Why to Use Twitter Lists

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 11:27 AM [Dear Gracie]
    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of more than 44,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you've been wondering that none of your friends can answer? Please send it to grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com

     

    Dear Gracie,

    I use Twitter, but I never use the "Lists" feature. I'm not sure I understand how to use them or why they're helpful. Please explain?

    Twitter Twit

     

    ******

    Dear Twitter Twit,

    Five Twitter experts from the ProfNet Connect network weigh in:

     

    What Are Twitter Lists for?

    "Twitter lists are a great way to organize people and resources on Twitter," says William J. Ward, social media professor at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Lists allow you to sort out specific users or resources more easily, by separating individual Twitter streams from the fire hose of information on the social network, he says.

    A distinct advantage of lists is that you can use them to follow individuals that you might not want in your primary news stream, agrees Lisa Low, associate director of emerging media and digital communications at Texas Tech University. So if you're only interested in someone's tweets for a specific reason, you can include them in a particular list, without following them as an individual, and only see their tweets when you're trying to focus on that particular area.

    For example, Ward follows over 6,600 people on Twitter. So to manage his students, he creates a list for each of his classes, so that he can specifically see what each group of students are sharing and help them focus on specific class discussions.

    Tracy Bagatelle-Black, account manager at RLM Public Relations, uses Twitter lists to keep track of industries that she's particularly involved with or interested in. Since she's a PR pro, she adds any PR expert who followers her to a "PR" list and any social media expert to a "Social Media" list. She also uses lists to keep track of industries that are relevant to her clients. For example, she created a "Mommy Bloggers" list to see what they are discussing so she can pitch her clients to them appropriately. By using Twitter lists, Bagatelle-Black can see what's going on in any given industry just by looking at the list's tweet stream.

    Journalists can also make good use of lists by sorting sources, like companies and experts, according to their industry categories, like "Health Experts" or "Other Business Journalists," says Low.

    Lists are also useful for events, says Ward. For a speaking conference in November, Ward created a list of 30 of his fellow speakers so that he can more easily see what information they are sharing leading up to and during the event.

    Twitter lists can be helpful if you're looking for employment too, says Bagatelle-Black. When she was looking for a job, she created a "Jobs" list to keep track of any companies she was interested in working for. Since many companies tweet about job openings now, it's a great tactic to find work.

    Another practical use for lists can simply be to separate your friends from business contacts, says Felicia Sinusas, director of publicity at Jane Wesman Public Relations. "While you're at work, you can focus on what colleagues are saying, and after hours, you can pay attention to what your closest friends are tweeting."

    And finally, lists can help you account for those people who are mostly like to want you to retweet them, or who are most likely to retweet you, says Sinusas. This can help you target and increase exposure.

     

    Creating a List, Adding Users to a List

    Ward explains: To create a list, go to your Twitter "Home" page, and click on the "Lists" drop-down tab underneath the status box. Then click on "Create a list" and provide a name and description.

    You have the option to make lists public or private, Ward continues. It might make sense to keep a list private, if, say, you're creating a list of company competitors and you don't want anyone but yourself to see that, he says.

    When you find someone you want to add to your list, first click on their profile, and then click on the button with the silhouette of a person's head and shoulders and a drop-down arrow (it's above the "Tweet to" box on the right-hand side), says Ward. It's the same button that allows you to mention, block or report the user as well. Then choose the "Add to list" option and pick which specific list you'd like to add them to.

     

    Finding Lists

    "I used to keep track of people using TweetDeck," says Bagatelle-Black, "But Twitter lists are even better because people can follow them."

    If you're looking for lists by subject, Peter Himler, principal at Flatiron Communications, says his favorite place to look for interesting Twitter lists is Listorious.com. For journalists, he recommends MuckRack.com. But in general, he says, explore who you're following and any of their lists as well.

    Twitter's search feature is also a great way to find interesting tweeters, by searching for topics or hashtags. But keep in mind that Twitter's searchable archive (as of right now anyway) doesn't go back very far, says Himler.

     

    Getting Listed

    Being included in a list is an "honor," of sorts, says Low, because it means you added value to a topic. (Although she supposes you could request to be added to a list too.)

    It's a recognition of one's authority in a particular area, agrees Himler. "Bragging rights, so to speak."

    That's also why lists are a way to evaluate the credibility and trust of other Twitter users and sources, says Ward. "People that have been added to many lists are more likely to be judged to be credible and trustworthy if many people have chosen to take the time to add them to a list."

    Looking at the number of lists a user has created is also a good way to understand what networks they belong to, and to better understand their thinking and organization, says Ward.

    You can see how many times a user has been included in someone else's list by checking out their "Listed" number, Ward continues, which is located near their number of tweets and followers, as well as the number of people they're following.

    The more Twitter lists that you're listed in, the more followers you will probably attract, which will add to your online influence, says Himler.

    "The best way to be added to a Twitter List is to share great content and to engage with other Twitter users," says Ward. "The other way to get added to Twitter Lists is to create your own lists and share these lists with others as an example of organizing information or sharing great resources."

    Bagatelle-Black particularly recommends participating in tweet chats, which are especially useful in the PR field. She's noticed that after she participates in a chat, she'll gain more followers and get added to lists. She also suggests attending networking events, since many professionals create specific lists for events or people they have met in person.

    "As Twitter grows in its ability to create conversations and drive narratives, the importance of identifying, following and ultimately engaging influencers by industry or topic will grow in importance," says Himler. "Scouring Twitter lists can be very helpful in this regard."

     

    Gracie

    Expert Alert: Site Traffic / Independent Contractors / Discrimination

    Monday, October 10, 2011, 2:33 PM [Expert Alerts]
    0 (0 Ratings)

    EXPERT ALERTS

    1. Business: The Most Important Thing Your Business Needs Today

    2. Business: Small-Business Sites Can Now Convert More Visitor Traffic Into Customers

    3. Finance: New IRS Program Helps Employers Misusing Independent Contractors Step up

    4. Marketing: Unbundled Cable Pricing: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

    5. Workplace: Should Religious Institutions Be Exempt From Anti-Discrimination Laws?

     

    OTHER NEWS & RESOURCES

    1. Interesting Expert of the Week, Turnaround Edition

    2. If Steve Jobs Had Been a PR Guy

    3. PR Meet SEO, SEO Meet PR -- Now Play Nice

     

    ***************************

    EXPERT ALERTS:

    Via Expert Alerts, ProfNet members can alert reporters to experts who are available to discuss timely news topics. If you are interested in interviewing any of the experts, please see the contact info at the end of the alert. You can also find Expert Alerts online on ProfNet Connect at bit.ly/pncalerts

    **1. BUSINESS: THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOUR BUSINESS NEEDS TODAY. Dr. Joey Faucette, best-selling author of "Work Positive in a Negative World": "Most of the stories my grandparents told were about how hard just making a living was during their growing-up years in the Great Depression. Their stories always left me with a certain sense of financial uncertainty. As I researched high-achieving business professionals, a different picture of the Great Depression emerged. Turns out everyone struggled, but some actually achieved outstanding results. Despite the loss of massive amounts of wealth virtually overnight, there were people who redefined the negative economic reality and achieved their business dreams." Dr. Faucette shares the most important thing your business needs today based on his research for his book "Work Positive in a Negative World," on successful businesses from the Great Depression. News Contact: Jillian McTigue, jmctigue@entrepreneur.com Phone: +1-949-622-5274

    **2. BUSINESS: SMALL-BUSINESS WEBSITES CAN NOW CONVERT MORE OF THEIR VISITOR TRAFFIC INTO CUSTOMERS. Carl Diamond, founder of DiamondWebsiteConversion.com: "According to one index, websites in the U.S. convert 2-3 percent of their visitors to customers. This includes very large websites that easily convert more than 10 percent of their traffic into customers. The majority of small sites struggle to achieve just 1 percent conversion. Much is at stake for small businesses, since moving the conversion needle from .50 percent to .60 percent equals a 20 percent increase in sales. Improving conversion rates requires a user-friendly, intuitive, easy-to-navigate website. It also requires a clear value proposition, well-defined target market and crystal-clear differentiation of products and services, at a glance. These services have long been available to large companies, but are now becoming available for small company budgets. Even as recently as last year, we have noticed a sharp increase in competition in almost every business niche. Small-business website conversion optimization allows them to get traction, take market share and level the playing field against much larger competitors." Diamond is available for media interviews. News Contact: Richard Berman, gobermanpr@gmail.com Phone: +1-914-572-2707

    **3. FINANCE: NEW IRS PROGRAM HELPS EMPLOYERS MISUSING INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS STEP UP BEFORE THEIR TAX SITUATIONS GET STOMPED DOWN. Michael Rozbruch, founder and CEO of Tax Resolution Services, Co., one of the nation's leading tax negotiation and mediation firms: "This new program can serve as a fresh start -- like an amnesty program. Businesses do need to step up before they get stomped on, as independent contractors who should be classified as employees are no laughing matter. But let’s remember that this program is for ‘eligible employers’ and could rattle confused businesses unsure of whether or not they are being compliant. Going forward to the IRS without representation could result in businesses paying additional payroll taxes unnecessarily; there is still a grey area about employees versus contractors, so be sure to have advocates on your side. The power of having a Certified Tax Resolution Specialist advise you about worker classification, delinquent payroll taxes, the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program and other IRS problems is the missing link that a business owner may not know what they don’t know. The new IRS classification program can save a business, but don’t rule out having expert representation on your side." Profile: www.profnetconnect.com/michael_rozbruch&... News Contact: Debbie Edwards, debbie@taxresolution.com Phone: +1-866-477-7762, ext. 326 Website: www.taxresolution.com

    **4. MARKETING: UNBUNDLED CABLE PRICING: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME? Kurt Janvrin, senior marketing strategist with Allant Group: "Recent news articles have suggested that cable operators are actively considering opening up bundled channel pricing to allow consumers to buy just what they want to see. Why would cable open this Pandora's box of pricing options to allow a la carte network billing? In a word -- money. The cost of programming (per subscriber fees paid to networks by cable operators and passed on to consumers) has been rising 6-10 percent annually, and squeezed subscribers are voting with their checkbooks by leaving cable at unprecedented rates. Unbundled pricing can, in theory, lower the cost of a cable subscription and allow consumers to choose what they want to pay for -- and no more -- creating a counterweight to escalating content fees. After all, much like a 15-course meal that you can’t possibly finish, the 'all you can eat' price is no bargain if what you really wanted was a small meal in the first place. The beauty of the ‘bundled vs. unbundled’ debate is that consumer behavior can play a very positive role in keeping all parties honest about the real value of both the programming content and the distributor’s viewing experience -- and lead to more satisfied, loyal customers." Janvrin is available for media interviews. News Contact: Richard Berman, gobermanpr@gmail.com Phone: +1-914-572-2707

    **5. WORKPLACE: SHOULD RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS BE EXEMPT FROM ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWS? Jane Ann Himsel is a shareholder at Littler Mendelson, the nation’s largest employment and labor law firm representing management: "On Oct. 5, the Supreme Court began hearing one of most important religion cases in decades, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. The case focuses on whether religious institutions should be exempt from anti-discrimination laws due to ministerial exception." Himsel has significant experience with religious discrimination and religious accommodation in the workplace, and has extensive knowledge of Title Vll, including the ministerial exception rule being debated. News Contact: Shani Wright, wright@formulapr.com Phone: +1-212-219-0321

     

    OTHER NEWS & RESOURCES:

    Following are links to other news and resources we think you might find useful. If you have an item you think other reporters would be interested in and would like us to include in a future alert, please drop us a line at profnetalerts@prnewswire.com

    **1. INTERESTING EXPERT OF THE WEEK, TURNAROUND EDITION: ProfNet Director Maria Perez presents tips from Grant Cardone on getting through the recession: bit.ly/oQPTC8

    **2. IF STEVE JOBS HAD BEEN A PR GUY: PR Newswire's Sarah Skerik discusses important lessons for communications from Jobs' legacy: bit.ly/rv2Kpy

    **3. PR MEET SEO, SEO MEET PR -- NOW PLAY NICE: Scott McIntosh discusses the relationship between modern PR and search-engine results: bit.ly/qiyqKt

    Neighbors, Brains, Vandalism: My Favorite Queries of the Week

    Friday, October 7, 2011, 11:33 AM [Favorite Queries]
    0 (0 Ratings)

    What do neighbors, brains and vandalism have in common? They all made my list of favorite queries this week:

     

    How to Be a Nice Neighbor. Install high fences and maybe a moat.

    People Who've Sworn Never to Get Married/Remarried. New title: "Happy People."

    Emotional Support Dogs. Isn't this redundant?

    Effect of Video Games on the Teen Brain. "We promise not to dissect them."

    The Occupy Wall Street Movement: How's It Spreading? A funny little thing called "the Internet."

    Binge Drinking and College Students. Where is the "news" in this?

    Arguing With Teens. A no-win situation.

    Medieval Cultural Historians. Best title EVAR!

    Signs You're Micromanaging and How to Stop. Are you reading this over someone's shoulder?

    Preventing and Dealing With Graffiti/Vandalism in Schools: Pre-graffiti the walls.

     

    *Publication names have been omitted to protect the innocent.

    What were some of your favorite queries this week? Did they make this list?

    Expert Alert: Pearl Harbor / Health Care Fraud / Hiring Policies

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011, 2:41 PM [Expert Alerts]
    0 (0 Ratings)

    EXPERT ALERTS

    1. Education: What Can Educational Institutions Do to Prevent School Bullying?

    2. History: The Significance of the 70th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attack

    3. International: The U.S.-Canada Shipping Dispute

    4. Law: Car Bombing Underscores Family-Law Risks

    5. Law: Cracking Down on Health Care Fraud

    6. Law: New Texas Law Tightens Medical Record Security

    7. Law: ‘No Nicotine’ Hiring Policy May Create Hurdles

    8. Law: The Need for a More Diverse Field of Attorneys

    9. Law: Tight Job Market Brings More EEOC Complaints

    10. Law: Transfer Pricing Is Critical in Deficit Reduction

    11. Taxation: 'Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program' Is Amnesty for Small Biz

     

    OTHER NEWS & RESOURCES

    1. Oct. 6 Is National Depression Screening Day

    2. Stopping Bullying: Consequences Are Effective

    3. Inside PR Newswire: Victoria Harres

     

    *********************

    EXPERT ALERTS:

    Via Expert Alerts, ProfNet members can alert reporters to experts who are available to discuss timely news topics. If you are interested in interviewing any of the experts, please see the contact info at the end of the alert. You can also find Expert Alerts online on ProfNet Connect at bit.ly/pncalerts

    **1. EDUCATION: WHAT CAN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS DO TO PREVENT SCHOOL BULLYING? Gregory Keating is a shareholder at Littler Mendelson, the nation’s largest employment and labor law firm representing management: "School bullying cases are gaining national attention as more and more headlines reveal traumatizing situations that are raising real questions with school administrators across the country. With the proliferation of new communication channels, including text messaging and social media, bullying is no longer limited to verbal or physical abuse. While a number of U.S. states currently have some rendition of an anti-bullying law in place, many are outdated and leave too much room for interpretation, raising questions regarding liability, criminal activity and consequences. It is important to train school officials on federal and state anti-bullying legislation, as well as to develop and implement school anti-bullying policies and spot bullying behavior on an ongoing basis. It is also critical to identify the appropriate response, documentation and reporting procedures for students and teachers, and consider how to manage litigation when children are charged as criminals." Keating is available to discuss the legal implications of students being charged as criminals and can outline the steps schools should consider to prevent bullying in the first place. News Contact: Shani Wright, wright@formulapr.com Phone: +1-212-219-0321

    **2. HISTORY: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PEARL HARBOR ATTACK. Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller is president and chief executive officer of The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. He can discuss the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which is on Dec. 7: "The 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack is particularly significant because it is highly likely that by the 80th anniversary of the attacks, there will be few, if any, eyewitnesses left to tell about their experiences. Also, there are many parallels between the recent 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the Pearl Harbor anniversary, as these are the only two times in history where there were attacks on American soil during non-war times.” Mueller and experts from the museum can discuss the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. The museum can also provide archival footage and oral histories of World War II veterans. News Contact: Bruce Miller, bmiller@hillmanpr.com Phone: +1-410-916-6951

    **3. INTERNATIONAL: THE U.S.-CANADA SHIPPING DISPUTE. Peter Tirschwell, senior vice president of The Journal of Commerce and a longtime maritime journalist, is available to discuss background issues regarding the U.S.-Canada shipping dispute and provide analysis to journalists reporting on the topic: “The Federal Maritime Commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a request from members of Congress to investigate so-called ‘diversions’ of U.S.-bound container cargo through Canada ports, potentially offering unfair subsidies for Asia-origin cargo brought into the United States via Canadian rail services. At the same time, West Coast ports are also proposing a new tax on ocean containers arriving in the U.S. via Canada ports to neutralize the impact of those containers not having to pay the Harbor Maintenance Tax, a $137-per-container (on average) fee assessed on containers arriving directly at U.S. ports. Canada argues that there is nothing amiss with U.S. cargo transiting through its ports, and importers see cost savings and speed advantages to using Canadian ports, which can cut days off the transit time from Asia to markets in the Midwest U.S.” Tirschwell is located in Newark, N.J. Tirschwell: ptirschwell@joc.com

    **4. LAW: CAR BOMBING UNDERSCORES FAMILY-LAW RISKS. Brad LaMorgese, a partner in Dallas-based family law firm of McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing, can discuss a Michigan lawyer and his two teenage sons who narrowly survived a car bombing. Investigators are examining the possibility that the attack could have been the work of the opposing party in a contentious child-support dispute the attorney was handling: “The bombing underscores the perils particular to attorneys who handle family-law cases. More than any other area of the law, family law generates intense emotions that sometimes spill out of the courtroom in the form of violence and threats of violence.” News Contact: Robert Tharp, robert@androvett.com Phone: +1-800-559-4534

    **5. LAW: CRACKING DOWN ON HEALTH CARE FRAUD. Rose Romero of the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight, is a former assistant U.S. attorney and regional director of the SEC in the Northern District of Texas: "Federal prosecutions for health care fraud are expected to reach almost 1,400 this year, an 85 percent increase from 2010. Texas, Florida and Alabama lead the nation in enforcement actions in 2011. Resources are being applied on a number of fronts that are leading to these kinds of numbers. There are new rules and tougher screenings of companies allegedly providing services, more funding for investigations, and greater cooperation among federal and state agencies in collecting evidence and completing prosecutions." News Contact: Barry Pound, barry@androvett.com Phone: +1-800-559-4534

    **6. LAW: NEW TEXAS LAW TIGHTENS MEDICAL RECORD SECURITY. Wilson Jones of the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight: "While Texas has passed a tough new law to protect personal medical information, a recent survey reveals that 80 percent of Americans are still concerned about an increased reliance on electronic health records because of the risk of identity theft and the potential they may be viewed by unauthorized health care workers, as well as current or potential employers. Although electronic records are generally more secure than paper records, lax security controls can still exist, even with encrypted data. The new Texas law goes beyond federal HIPAA regulations in setting heightened requirements for employee training and fulfilling patient requests, and dramatically expands enforcement penalties. Third-party organizations that may have access to personal health information, but have never been subject to privacy regulations, could face prosecution and fines under this new law." News Contact: Barry Pound, barry@androvett.com Phone: +1-800-559-4534

    **7. LAW: ‘NO NICOTINE’ HIRING POLICY MAY CREATE HURDLES. Joe Ahmad, executive employment lawyer of Houston's Ahmad Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA: "The new ‘no nicotine’ hiring policy at Dallas-based Baylor Health Care System may stand up in court, but it should make other employers uneasy. Not only could employers be cutting themselves off from good future employees, but they also may be hurting the morale of current workers who are grandfathered in but now may feel like second-class citizens. There could be legal issues down the road too, including whether this policy retaliates against smokers with higher health care costs. Also, someone could raise the potentially hard-to-win argument that nicotine addiction is a disability protected from discrimination." News Contact: Mary Flood, mary@androvett.com Phone: +1-800-559-4534

    **8. LAW: THE NEED FOR A MORE DIVERSE FIELD OF ATTORNEYS. Denise Spriggs, interim dean at Charlotte School of Law, the only law school in North Carolina’s most populous city: “U.S. citizens age 65 and older are projected to increase from 37 percent of the population in 2005 to 81 percent by 2050, an increase of 119 percent. As a result, the U.S. is faced with the prospect of losing a generation of professional-services workers, including attorneys, as baby boomers retire. This rapid aging of the population indicates the need for the training of substantial numbers of lawyers to fill the positions of aging and retiring attorneys. With the legal community on the verge of experiencing unprecedented turnover, U.S. law schools need to prepare a new generation of lawyers to accommodate this dramatic change and to address our long-term legal needs. In addition, the next generation of Americans is going represent a much more diverse culture than the current population, and today’s law students need to reflect this change. For example, Sun Belt states are among those states with the fastest growing immigrant populations, and the adult U.S. Hispanic population is forecast to grow from 14 percent in 2005 to 31 percent by 2050. This demographic shift indicates the need for an increase in the number of attorneys from diverse ethnic backgrounds to meet this need for legal services.” News Contact: Michael Henry, mhenry@wrayward.com Phone: +1-704-926-1364

    **9. LAW: TIGHT JOB MARKET BRINGS MORE EEOC COMPLAINTS. Mark Shank of the Dallas law firm Gruber Hurst Johansen Hail Shank LLP: “Almost 100,000 employment discrimination claims were filed with the EEOC in 2010, a record that could be eclipsed this year. Given the economic climate, employers now face a greater chance of receiving complaints, not just from terminated employees but from existing ones as well. It appears that more employees believe they don’t have the option of leaving their current job, and are choosing to file a complaint instead. There is also a growing body of employment laws and regulations, coupled with outreach by state and federal agencies, to raise awareness of workplace rights. Employers need to recognize the increased potential for discrimination claims, and take steps to educate managers and supervisors about avoiding legitimate complaints.” News Contact: Barry Pound, barry@androvett.com Phone: +1-800-559-4534

    **10. LAW: TRANSFER PRICING IS CRITICAL IN DEFICIT REDUCTION. Cym H. Lowell, transfer-pricing lawyer at the Dallas office of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP and lead author of international tax and transfer-pricing treatises of Thomson Reuters, which demystify the ambiguous world of transfer pricing: "The financial press is appropriately full of stories about deficit reduction and the role of corporate tax reform. From a government standpoint, these discussions relate to the need to close corporate loopholes that allow income to be earned in low-tax foreign countries. From a multinational standpoint, the issue is elimination of the competitive handicap that U.S. law imposes on U.S.-based multinationals. The current Obama administration deficit-reduction proposal anticipates a 7-to-1 return from further investment in IRS enforcement programs. Congressional hearings are addressing the potential benefits of a new ‘territorial’ tax system. The common element in all of these elements is the role of the U.S. transfer-pricing provisions. Our clients examine each of these developments in terms of achieving their global effective tax rate strategy." News Contact: Rhonda Reddick, rhonda@androvett.com Phone: +1-800-559-4534

    **11. TAXATION: IRS’ NEW 'VOLUNTARY WORKER CLASSIFICATION SETTLEMENT PROGRAM' IS AMNESTY FOR SMALL BUSINESSES. Michael Rozbruch, founder and CEO of Tax Resolution Services, Co., one of the nation's leading tax negotiation and mediation firms: "Under the new IRS Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program announced last week, business owners have an opportunity to reclassify contractors as employees and make a very small payment to cover past payroll taxes and settle. This is significant because if the IRS audited you and you are not under the new plan umbrella, they automatically go back three years, and the monetary 'hit' is generally 40 percent of your 1099 gross amounts, thus forcing the unsuspecting business owner to close its doors. I have seen this happen, firsthand, numerous times. Under this new 'amnesty' program, the IRS will not only audit you for just the current year, your tax bill may be reduced from 40 percent (of 1099s) to anywhere between 33 percent, and to as low as an unimaginable 1 percent. Amnesty aside, remember that the IRS is the most brutal collection agency on the planet. Businesses need smart representation like a Certified Tax Resolution Specialist before they go to the IRS. Yes, some deliberately misclassify their workers in order to evade offering benefits and avoiding payroll taxes, but the ethical business owners who are confused about the difference between an employee and an independent contractor who are getting lured to go forward to the IRS without representation could end up paying additional payroll taxes unnecessarily." Profile: www.profnetconnect.com/michael_rozbruch&... News Contact: Debbie Edwards, debbie@taxresolution.com Phone: +1-866-477-7762, ext. 326 Website: www.taxresolution.com

     

    OTHER NEWS & RESOURCES:

    Following are links to other news and resources we think you might find useful. If you have an item you think other reporters would be interested in and would like us to include in a future alert, please drop us a line at profnetalerts@prnewswire.com

    **1. OCT. 6 IS NATIONAL DEPRESSION SCREENING DAY: Mary Anne Morrow discusses this day of depression awareness: bit.ly/qNWy1S

    **2. STOPPING BULLYING: CONSEQUENCES ARE EFFECTIVE: Marie Newman discusses how schools can deal with immediate and ongoing bullying problems: bit.ly/pJGTuB

    **3. INSIDE PR NEWSWIRE: VICTORIA HARRES: ProfNet Editor Evelyn Tipacti presents Vicky Harres, director of audience development at PR Newswire: bit.ly/qoTVPP

    Dear Gracie: How to Shine in a Cover Letter

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011, 11:21 AM [Dear Gracie]
    0 (0 Ratings)

    Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of more than 44,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you've been wondering that none of your friends can answer? Please send it to grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com

     

    Dear Gracie,

    I'm unemployed and am applying to numerous job positions. We've all heard about the standard format of cover letters before, but I'd like to know how to make mine stand out. Are they even read anyway? If they are, how do I make sure mine is memorable? Any style tips? Do big vocab words make me sound smarter or dumber? Should I also an alternative letter format, or will that reflect poorly on me?

    Common Contender

     

    ***********

    Dear Common Contender,

    Four ProfNet experts share their share knowledge on cover letters:

     

    Salutations: Know Who You Are Addressing

    Avoid a generic salutation, says Donna Farrugia, executive director at The Creative Group, a specialized staffing firm that places interactive, design, marketing and PR professionals. If possible, don't start with "To whom it may concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam" -- be proactive and call the company to ask the hiring manager's name (and correct spelling) and title. This will demonstrate motivation and resourcefulness.

    A cover letter will also stand out more if the candidate takes the time to speak with a company decision maker prior to sending the letter, says Terri Deems, career coach, trainer and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience, and co-author of the 2010 top seller "Make Job Loss Work for You!" That way, the opening of the letter can begin with something like:

    "Thanks for taking the time to speak with me this morning about the administrative assistant open at XYZ Corp. The information you provided has confirmed my interest in the position, and as you encouraged, I have attached a copy of my resume for your consideration."

    The cover letter must also have an attention-grabbing headline, says Richard Lukesh, managing partner at Your Part-Time HR Mananger, LLC, and an expert on implementing HR services in small and mid-sized businesses. Use newspaper headlines or professionals journals even for inspiration. Statistics show that the headline is read almost 100 percent of the time, while the body of the document is only scanned.

     

    Length: Short and Sweet

    Limit your letter to a few well-crafted paragraphs, says Farrugia. "Explain why the job interests you and what unique qualities you can bring to the position." Show off your personality, but make sure you stick to relevant information for the job.

    "Cover letters are shorter today," agrees Ellen Sautter, a career coach with 22 years in the outplacement/career-transition business, and author of two books on social networking and careers. No one has time to read long missives, so consider keeping cover letters short with bullet points.

    Many professionals are tempted to skip introductory cover letters, assuming they won't be read, says Farrugia. But 86 percent of executives surveyed by Robert Half International said cover letters are valuable in evaluating job candidates, so skipping this step is not a good idea.

    "A strong cover letter can make all the difference," says Deems, especially in terms of how much attention a screener or decision maker will give your resume.

     

    Format: Be Alternative

    If you're trying to land a job in a creative industry, like marketing, for instance, avoid using a template from your word-processing program. "Integrate any design elements from your portfolio, resume or business into your cover letter so that it becomes another piece of your personal brand," says Farrugia. Put your stamp on it.

    Deems suggests this formula that will get positive attention and takes no more than about 10 minutes to create: 1) A brief introductory paragraph, followed by a reference to the enclosed or attached resume, and a short summary of your qualifications, 2) a closing that indicates your interest in learning more about the goals of the position and how your talents can help achieve them, 3) an ending with a statement suggesting that they'll want to speak with you further, like "I look forward to speaking with you soon."

    But get away from the strict narrative format of using paragraphs, says Deems. Instead, use a paragraph for you introduction and closing, but consider bullet points instead to list your qualifications. Make sure the qualifications deal specifically with what you know they seek or need.

    Use an odd number of bullets, continues Deems. Five bullet points work best, where four of the bullet points address your skills and experience, and the last one deals with aspects of your values or personal characteristics, like "strong work ethic" or "enthusiastic."

    A T-letter format can be a great technique for bullet points, says Sautter. It's a two-column table that you can create in your word-processing program with the position requirements in the lefthand column and the skill-set matches in the righthand column. However, since it can a time-consuming format to prepare, save it for perfect or nearly perfect job matches.

    There are also numerous little things that can help the format of your cover letter. For instance, a sharp letterhead will make you stand out, says Deems. And definitely make sure there are no grammatical or spelling errors in the writing. That will make you stand out in a bad way!

     

    Content: Prove Your Value

    The purpose of your letter is to demonstrate how you can contribute to the company's goals -- but not vice versa, says Farrugia. So don't make demands, like asking for a specific salary or saying something like "I prefer working from home every Friday."

    To keep your letter on track, look at the job posting and decide what accomplishments you're going to focus on, says Farrugia. "For example, if you are applying for a position that involves managing a company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, play up your communication skills and social media experience."

    Emphasize your "hard" skills, says Sautter. "Soft skills are nice, but come into play much later in the selection process." Everyone has great communication and leadership skills, so save those references for when you get the interview. Instead, emphasize your industry experience, product knowledge, specific skill sets and educational credentials in your field.

    Expand on one or two key points from your resume -- perhaps how you doubled a company's Facebook fan base in the two years you managed it -- to address the potential employer's needs, Farrugia says.

    Using evidence like this to show off your skills is a good idea, says Farrugia. "There's a fine line between confidence and cockiness." If you say you're "the best copywriter in Chicago," it's not as effective as explaining how the marketing emails you crafted increased sales by 20 percent. Give proof of your value.

    You might be tempted to stretch the truth about your accomplishments, especially given today's competitive job market, says Farrugia. But don't do it. "Even seemingly minor misrepresentations can come back to haunt you during the reference or background-check process."

     

    Tone: Keep It Light, But Professional

    Maintain a friendly but professional tone that conveys some of your enthusiasm, energy and interest, says Deems. "'Friendly' can come across through some well-placed informal word choices." For example, use a closing like "Best Wishes," instead of "Sincerely."

    Watch out for clever gimmicks or "sophisticated" vocabulary -- they don't work, says Deems. It can make you look cold, stuck-up or even too "professional."

    If you use buzzwords, industry jargon or acronyms, you'll end up muddling your message too, agrees Farrugia. There's a chance your reader may not understand what you're talking about.

    Also, minimize the use of personal pronouns such as "I," "me" or "my," says Deems. "Too many of these in a cover letter make the writer sound self-absorbed and more focused on themselves than on the organization." These words can't be avoided completely, but minimize their use by restructuring sentences.

    For example, rather than saying, "I'm writing about your opening for an administrative assistant," try instead, "Your posting in the newspaper caught my eye concerning your search for administrative assistant." In this case, the personal pronoun is unavoidable, but placing it in the middle of the sentence rather than the beginning of the sentence will make it stand out less, says Deems.

    The only time "I" should appear at the beginning of the sentence is at the end of the letter, when you say "I look forward to speaking with you soon," adds Deems

     

    Final Tip: Use Your Time Wisely

    Don't bother applying for positions where you are not a great match, says Sautter. "I used to say that a 70 percent match would be worth applying. But with the competition in today's market, if you aren't a 90 percent match or better, don't bother. Use your time more productively."

    But most importantly, spend less time writing letters and more time networking. "The biggest mistake I see candidates making is spending far too much time posting for jobs online. Online or traditional networking is the way that most people land their new jobs, and therefore where candidates need to be spending most of their job-search time," says Sautter.

    Expert Alert: New Swipe Fees / Open Houses / EEOC

    Monday, October 3, 2011, 2:32 PM [Expert Alerts]
    0 (0 Ratings)

    EXPERT ALERTS

    1. Finance: 'Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program' Is Amnesty for Small Biz

    2. Finance: New Swipe Fee Limits for Paying With Plastic

    3. Finance: Transfer Pricing Is Critical in Deficit Reduction

    4. Real Estate: How to Drive Traffic to Your Open Houses and Help Them Stand Out

    5. Real Estate: What to Do When an Offer Has Been Accepted But the Appraisal Comes in Low

    6. Workplace: Deal With Negative People Without Becoming One

    7. Workplace: How Can Employers Avoid Paying the Legal Price When Hiring Interns?

    8. Workplace: Lost Wages/Productivity During Flu Season Cost American Employers

    9. Workplace: ‘No Nicotine’ Hiring Policy May Create Hurdles

    10. Workplace: Tight Job Market Brings More EEOC Complaints

     

    OTHER NEWS & RESOURCES

    1. ProfNet Connect Anniversary Recap: The State of PR/Media

    2. A Brief Blog Profile: That Tech Chick

    3. Interesting Expert of the Week, Calculus Edition

    4. Weekly Roundup: PR and Media

     

    ***************************

    EXPERT ALERTS:

    Via Expert Alerts, ProfNet members can alert reporters to experts who are available to discuss timely news topics. If you are interested in interviewing any of the experts, please see the contact info at the end of the alert. You can also find Expert Alerts online on ProfNet Connect at bit.ly/pncalerts

    **1. FINANCE: IRS’ NEW 'VOLUNTARY WORKER CLASSIFICATION SETTLEMENT PROGRAM' IS AMNESTY FOR SMALL BUSINESSES. Michael Rozbruch, founder and CEO of Tax Resolution Services, Co., one of the nation's leading tax negotiation and mediation firms: "Under the new IRS Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program announced last week, business owners have an opportunity to reclassify contractors as employees and make a very small payment to cover past payroll taxes and settle. This is significant because if the IRS audited you and you are not under the new plan umbrella, they automatically go back three years, and the monetary 'hit' is generally 40 percent of your 1099 gross amounts, thus forcing the unsuspecting business owner to close its doors. I have seen this happen, firsthand, numerous times. Under this new 'amnesty' program, the IRS will not only audit you for just the current year, your tax bill may be reduced from 40 percent (of 1099s) to anywhere between 33 percent, and to as low as an unimaginable 1 percent. Amnesty aside, remember that the IRS is the most brutal collection agency on the planet. Businesses need smart representation like a Certified Tax Resolution Specialist before they go to the IRS. Yes, some deliberately misclassify their workers in order to evade offering benefits and avoiding payroll taxes, but the ethical business owners who are confused about the difference between an employee and an independent contractor who are getting lured to go forward to the IRS without representation could end up paying additional payroll taxes unnecessarily." Profile: www.profnetconnect.com/michael_rozbruch  News Contact: Debbie Edwards, debbie@taxresolution.com Phone: +1-866-477-7762, ext. 326 Website: www.taxresolution.com

    **2. FINANCE: NEW SWIPE FEE LIMITS FOR PAYING WITH PLASTIC. Zahara Alarakhia, a partner in Dallas-based Munck Carter: "New financial regulations that cap the amount banks can charge for debit card transaction ‘swipe fees’ promise to send ripples through the economy, from the very largest card-issuing banks, to merchants, to individual checking-account holders. Card-issuing banks stand to lose an estimated $9 billion annually as a result of the cap on transaction swipe fees that started Oct. 1. Bank customers accustomed to free checking and rewards perks will see those incentives disappear as banks try to recoup the lost revenue. Merchants stand to gain by not having to pass along the higher fees, but it remains to be seen whether that will translate to lower prices for consumers." News Contact: Robert Tharp, robert@androvett.com Phone: +1-800-559-4534

    **3. FINANCE: TRANSFER PRICING IS CRITICAL IN DEFICIT REDUCTION. Cym H. Lowell, transfer-pricing lawyer at the Dallas office of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP and lead author of international tax and transfer pricing treatises of Thomson Reuters, which demystify the ambiguous world of transfer pricing: "The financial press is appropriately full of stories about deficit reduction and the role of corporate tax reform. From a government standpoint, these discussions relate to the need to close corporate loopholes that allow income to be earned in low-tax foreign countries. From a multinational standpoint, the issue is elimination of the competitive handicap that U.S. law imposes on U.S.-based multinationals. The current Obama administration deficit-reduction proposal anticipates a 7-to-1 return from further investment in IRS enforcement programs. Congressional hearings are addressing the potential benefits of a new ‘territorial’ tax system. The common element in all of these elements is the role of the U.S. transfer-pricing provisions. Our clients examine each of these developments in terms of achieving their global effective tax rate strategy." News Contact: Rhonda Reddick, rhonda@androvett.com Phone: +1-800-559-4534

    **4. REAL ESTATE: HOW TO DRIVE TRAFFIC TO YOUR OPEN HOUSES AND HELP THEM STAND OUT. Chobee Hoy, owner of Chobee Hoy Associates Real Estate, Inc., in Brookline, Mass.: "We recently did something out-of-the-ordinary to help one of our listings gain attention from the community. In order to help market one of our larger listings, we invited painters from the local art center to loan us one or two paintings for a one-evening pop-up gallery at our listing, and a local restaurant provided appetizers that we offered along with refreshments and even live music. The event ended up being a big hit and received local news coverage." News Contact: Lucia Scott, Lucia@exposeyourselfpr.com

    **5. REAL ESTATE: WHAT TO DO WHEN AN OFFER HAS BEEN ACCEPTED BUT THE APPRAISAL COMES IN LOW. Chip Poli, CEO of Poli Mortgage Group, Inc., in Norwood Mass.: "First and foremost, I would talk to your Realtor to see if they have some additional comparable homes that would support the value of the purchase price. Sometimes appraisers fail to find all comparable homes in their search to be put on their appraisal, which can cause the problem we are discussing. If your Realtor does have some that fit the requirements, they may be used for the appraiser to redo their appraisal to reflect the comps and raise the value accordingly. On the other hand, if the property will just not appraise at the purchase price agreed upon, it is time to put on your negotiation hat. In some cases, the seller will negotiate their selling price and make the deal work." News Contact: Lucia Scott, Lucia@exposeyourselfpr.com

    **6. WORKPLACE: DEAL WITH NEGATIVE PEOPLE WITHOUT BECOMING ONE. Dr. Joey Faucette, best-selling author of "Work Positive in a Negative World: Redefine Your Reality and Achieve Your Business Dreams": "It's challenging enough for most of us to do more with less at work, as we’re all forced to do in this economy. But when 'Eeyore vampires' -- negative people -- invade, the dark shadows take over. I refer to negative people as ‘Eeyore vampires’ because just like Winnie the Pooh’s friend, Eeyore, negative people respond to most everything with 'It’ll never work.' They are ‘vampires’ because these negative people morph at sunset into creatures who fly around your thoughts and suck time, energy and attention away from enjoying your family and friends. The question is 'How do you deal with Eeyore vampires at work?'" Dr. Faucette offers business executives and professionals three key strategies. News Contact: Jillian McTigue, jmctigue@entrepreneur.com Phone: +1-949-622-5274

    **7. WORKPLACE: HOW CAN EMPLOYERS AVOID PAYING THE LEGAL PRICE WHEN HIRING INTERNS? Lee Schreter is a shareholder at Littler Mendelson, the nation’s largest employment and labor law firm representing management: "With school back in session, employers are placing more emphasis on the internship model. Not only are employers expecting to increase internship hiring by approximately 7 percent this year, they will likely hire more than half of these interns into full-time employment positions, according to a recent National Association of Colleges and Employers report. In addition, many Americans who have been in the workforce for years, but may now be out of work, are looking to internships to enhance their experience. According to the Department of Labor, there are standards for interns to work unpaid. It is important for employers to comply with the law, because if requirements are not fulfilled, the intern may be considered an employee for federal and state wage or hour law purposes, and the employer may be liable for wages and overtime, as well as employment taxes." Schreter is available to provide insight regarding what employers should be aware of when hiring unpaid interns and the criteria that must be met. News Contact: Shani Wright, wright@formulapr.com Phone: +1-212-219-0321

    **8. WORKPLACE: LOST WAGES/PRODUCTIVITY DURING FLU SEASON COST AMERICAN EMPLOYERS BILLIONS OF DOLLARS ANNUALLY. Terri Burdick, senior vice president of administration and operations at Blackhawk Bank: "As we approach another flu season, businesses can help cut down on wage and productivity losses by proactively educating and preparing employees on flu prevention. Employers should be very mindful to make it very easy to reduce the spreading of germs among employees and customers alike. There are simple, cost-effective preventative measures businesses can offer, such as no-cost flu shots in the workplace and hand sanitizers stationed throughout the office." She is located in Beloit, Wis. News Contact: Kylie Crull, kcrull@pretc.net Phone: +1-815-489-3956

    **9. WORKPLACE: ‘NO NICOTINE’ HIRING POLICY MAY CREATE HURDLES. Joe Ahmad, executive employment lawyer of Houston's Ahmad Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA: "The new ‘no nicotine’ hiring policy at Dallas-based Baylor Health Care System may stand up in court, but it should make other employers uneasy. Not only could employers be cutting themselves off from good future employees, but they may also be hurting the morale of current workers who are grandfathered in but now may feel like second-class citizens. There could be legal issues down the road too, including whether this policy retaliates against smokers with higher health care costs. Also, someone could raise the potentially hard-to-win argument that nicotine addiction is a disability protected from discrimination." News Contact: Mary Flood, mary@androvett.com Phone: +1-800-559-4534

    **10. WORKPLACE: TIGHT JOB MARKET BRINGS MORE EEOC COMPLAINTS. Mark Shank of the Dallas law firm Gruber Hurst Johansen Hail Shank LLP: “Almost 100,000 employment discrimination claims were filed with the EEOC in 2010, a record that could be eclipsed this year. Given the economic climate, employers now face a greater chance of receiving complaints, not just from terminated employees but from existing ones as well. It appears that more employees believe they don’t have the option of leaving their current job, and are choosing to file a complaint instead. There is also a growing body of employment laws and regulations, coupled with outreach by state and federal agencies, to raise awareness of workplace rights. Employers need to recognize the increased potential for discrimination claims, and take steps to educate managers and supervisors about avoiding legitimate complaints.” News Contact: Barry Pound, barry@androvett.com Phone: +1-800-559-4534

     

    OTHER NEWS & RESOURCES:

    Following are links to other news and resources we think you might find useful. If you have an item you think other reporters would be interested in and would like us to include in a future alert, please drop us a line at profnetalerts@prnewswire.com

    **1. PROFNET CONNECT ANNIVERSARY RECAP: THE STATE OF PR/MEDIA: ProfNet Editor Grace Lavigne summarizes Rachel Weingarten's discussion of the industry: bit.ly/n2gZwO

    **2. A BRIEF BLOG PROFILE: THAT TECH CHICK: Thomas Hynes reviews That Tech Chick, a tech blog for everyday women: bit.ly/qxQr5U

    **3. INTERESTING EXPERT OF THE WEEK, CALCULUS EDITION: ProfNet Director Maria Perez presents Ed Meyer, a physics professor who teaches problem-solving: bit.ly/mQ2iht

    **4. WEEKLY ROUNDUP: PR AND MEDIA: ProfNet Editor Jason Hahn presents 10 interesting PR- and media-related stories found online last week: bit.ly/rqcOEM

    ProfNet Connect Anniversary Recap: The State of PR/Media

    Friday, September 30, 2011, 1:33 PM [General]
    4.1 (3 Ratings)

    In celebration of ProfNet Connect's one-year milestone on Sept. 16, we invited ProfNet users for a gathering at PR Newswire's New York office on Tuesday (Sept. 27) to recap the past year and listen to Rachel Weingarten and Nathan Burgess discuss the state of PR and media -- and eat purple cake!

    Rachel Weingarten is the president of Interrobang LLC (formerly known as GTK Marketing Group), where she is a strategist for many of the world's largest consumer-packaged goods, cosmetic, fashion, publishing and government agencies, as well as entertainment and pharmaceutical corporations. Rachel has worn many hats -- from celebrity makeup artist, to owner of the first low-fat mini-muffin company approved by the FDA, to corporate professional, entrepreneur and freelance writer. Her extensive and diverse experiences have made her an internationally recognized expert on marketing, promotions and trends.

    Nathan Burgess is the editor and publisher of PRBreakfastClub, a group-run blog dedicated to all areas of marketing and communications, and senior account executive at BlissPR, where he counsels B2B clients in the development of social media and digitally based marketing programs.

    After a few opening remarks from ProfNet Connect Editor Evelyn Tipacti (and after a few bites of sandwiches and fruit and a bit of chatting around the table), Nathan assisted Rachel in leading a discussion on the state of PR and media by asking her questions in an interview-style format to facilitate her thoughts.

     

    "What has been the biggest change you've seen in the business?" Nathan asked.

    You used to have to twist people's arm to get them on the Internet -- back when there was hardly anything but porn sites -- but now, everyone is open to new ideas and technologies, Rachel said. Everyone wants to be in on a conversation that used to make you an oddball. Now everyone's asking: What's next?

     

    Can anyone become a social media expert? Is that positive or negative?

    It's positive, Rachel said. But her pet peeve is people who don't do it well and have no social media strategy, yet declare themselves experts and take people's money -- they detract from those who are doing it well. However, it's great that anyone can be a social media expert because unexpected talents pop up and everyone has to try harder to be better.

     

    How do you set yourself apart, and communicate that you're a legit expert?

    Track record, said Rachel. She's never had to advertise; she gets clients from word-of-mouth.

    Also, consider your "special sauce," she said. What can you do better than everyone else? Maybe your company offers 20 services, but which particular service sets you apart? Whether you're a great press-release writer, a pop-culture junkie, or just better at working with others, keep honing whatever it is about yourself that works. Continue to evolve, but focus on your core strengths. You're better of sticking to what you do best, and promoting that.

     

    Any tips for working with non-professional marketers?

    They don't want to appear dumb, so you have to massage their ego and make them look amazing, Rachel said. Sometimes they don't know where the line can be crossed -- they can steal ideas because they're paying you or fail to give you credit when it's due.

    But make sure you do two things really well, she said: Manage their expectations and give them an outline. Give them to the power to veto. If you know in advance they might hate something or won't be the champion, constantly take their pulse and see if it's working for them. If you give them a ton of info, they'll think "I can do this myself" -- so let them fall, but remember to continue to make them look good to their team.

     

    What are some tips for hosting contests or giveaways on sites and blogs?

    Don't take chances with your reputation or business, said Rachel. Make sure you understand the rules and regulations of giveaways and contests, since each state has different rules and methods of entry. Disgruntled people can argue with your process, so don't cut and paste language from other sites.

    For example, during the Obama campaign for the 2008 elections, campaign officials held a giveaway for 10 tickets to attend the Democratic National Convention. The FTC deemed it "illegal lottery," so they changed the rules -- but they didn't change them to adhere to the giveaway rules of all 50 states. Some of those state officials contacted the campaign because they felt excluded. It could have been a PR nightmare.

    You need to worry about private litigation and consumers, states and the federal government, Rachel said. Watch your language, and be as specific and exact as possible. Have alternate methods of entry available, and publish the list of winners afterwards. Never send prizes directly from your home; let the third-party company send the prizes to the winner. And don't make promises you can't keep.

    Food goes bad, so try to avoid it in giveaways. le, a cosmetic company that Rachel worked with gave away stress balls, but didn't tell consumers they were filled with rice (which was cheaper than filling them with a synthetic material). A tiny hole in one customer's stress ball became infested with tiny worms, which then bore holes in the floors of the person's house. They sued, and it was an ugly stain on the cosmetic company's brand. But it could have been prevented, and it wasn't worth the small amount of money they saved using rice.

     

    What are some best practices regarding bloggers and disclosure guidelines?

    When you're checking up on a blogger's disclosure guidelines, don't use a media list to send out the same mass email, Rachel said. Just check out the blog. Does the blog have integrity? If the blog will raise issues about your client, don't do it.  

     

    What are some tips for working with journalists?

    Since she's also a freelancer, Rachel has perspective from both sides of the PR-media relationship. "If you understand what journalists face, it makes the process easier," she said.

    "Freelancer" these days has a stigma against it, she continued. But what's interesting now is that freelancers actually have a larger reach than staff reporters, especially in terms of relationships with editors. The rules have changed.

     

    How do you define "journalist"?

    "Journalist" used to mean you wrote about "serious" topics, Rachel said. But she thinks nowadays it's someone who researches their subjects, versus contributing their personal thoughts (unless they're also an expert). "It's more elastic now," she said.

     

    How much do you value the journalistic hierarchy? For example, if there's a misquote in a story, an editor can be a useful person to contact to correct the mistake.

    "It's a double-edged sword," Rachel said. If there's a misquote, it's easier to contact a blogger because they can change it immediately. However, if you're working with a journalist and go over their head to contact the editor, they are likely to hate you and avoid you in the future.

    But in terms of editorial integrity, editors make stories better and polished. You can't spot every error yourself, so the quality of work shows when that hierarchy is flattened (i.e., when editors are cut from the process). Repurposed content is inevitable if the editorial team is cut.

     

    How is old media faring in an age of new media?

    Old media was so frightened of new media that it took them too long to catch on, said Rachel. Internally, there are those fighting for progress, but there are also those fighting for the bottom line. But cutting teams and flattening hierarchy makes quality go out the window -- so next year, who will want to advertise in that publication? It's a vicious cycle.

    The publications that are doing well are the ones who are integrating new media into their articles and helping readers to understand why it's important.

     

    What do you think of publication paywalls? Do they affect exposure?

    When new media appeared, old media froze. By the time they figured out a model that worked, people rejected it because they'd already been reading articles for free for some time. These publications need to evolve and find new ways to target subscribers and customize content. But people don't want to think that what they're reading has a PR agenda.

    Perhaps if media companies worked together to create a standard, like "this is what will happen with pay, this is what won't happen with pay," rather than competing with each other, they would find a solution. This is the "Wild West" of media.

     

    The evening ended with everyone continuing to mingle and discuss industry issues over this delicious purple cake:

    Criminals, Honeymoons, Dogs: My Favorite Queries of the Week

    Friday, September 30, 2011, 11:21 AM [Favorite Queries]
    0 (0 Ratings)

    What do criminals, honeymoons and dogs have in common? They all made my list of favorite queries this week:

     

    Keeping Your Dog Happy and Safe While You're Out. Leave "Animal Planet" on TV.

    Joints Predicting the Weather. Does this mean bongs can predict the future?

    Odds of an Ex-Offender Finding a Job Where He Committed Murder. Umm… zero, right?

    How to Stay Safe During a Riot. Pretend you're a zombie to get past the horde.

    Climate Change and Urban Farming. Next week: Climate Change and Arctic Farming.

    How to Make a Stay-at-Home Honeymoon Special. Move to Hawaii.

    Last Meal for Death-Row Criminals. The Pizza Royale: A pie with extra caviar and gold shavings, served on a diamond platter.

    How to Politely Decline a Holiday Office-Party Invitation. Threaten to quit if attendance is mandatory.

    Barbers and Hair Salons That Offer Beer. So that's how they get the kids to stop crying…

    Transforming What You Have Into Halloween Decorations. AKA what my mom does every year.

     

    *Publication names have been omitted to protect the innocent.

    What were some of your favorite queries this week? Did they make this list?

    Dear Gracie: How to Interview Job Candidates

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011, 10:22 AM [Dear Gracie]
    0 (0 Ratings)

    Dear Gracie,

    I was recently promoted to a managerial position, and will have to hire the people who will report to me. I've never interviewed anyone before, and I'm nervous because I don't want to hire the wrong person. What types of questions should I ask? How do I know when I find the right person? I'm interested in general advice.

    Antsy Admin

     

    ****

    Dear Antsy Admin,

    Here is advice from seven experienced interviewers found within the ProfNet Connect community:

     

    The Interviewer's Role and Responsibility

    Your job as the interviewer is to set the tone, develop questions to obtain facts from the candidates, and ensure that all candidates are treated equally and fairly, says Jennetta Hyatt, recruitment manager at Third Sector New England, a management and leadership resource for nonprofits. Be familiar with the job requirements in order to appropriately assess candidates, and make sure the candidates do most of the talking -- not you.

    Be aware of the employment laws regarding the hiring process, says Hyatt. An inappropriate question or comment during an interview, regardless of whether or not the hiring decision was based on this information, can be cause for a disgruntled applicant to seek a lawsuit, so be sure to document each step of your hiring process and retain all documentation. In the event that a job applicant or candidate logs a complaint with a regulatory agency and you are questioned about it, you will appreciate having this information handy, she says. For example, create a matrix that includes your interview questions, and record ratings of each candidate's response.

     

    Asking the Right Questions

    Start the interview off with something easy and comfortable, like a tour of the building, says David Baker, principal at ReCourses, a management consulting business for marketing firms, and author of "Managing (Right) for the First Time." Don't be driven by agenda, but make it evident that you have one. As soon as you're seated, give them an accurate picture of the job, then start with easy questions. Gradually move to questions that require greater reflection and articulation.

    "The right questions are not too scripted," Baker continues. "If you ask the same questions as everyone else, the prospective employee will not feel valued." And, if the questions are different from the norm, you won't receive canned responses.

    But be consistent in the questions you ask, says Ben Dattner, principal at Dattner Consulting, a personnel-selection, performance-management and coaching company. For legal reasons and for practical reasons, it's important to ask all candidates the same questions, or at least very similar questions. This avoids the possibility that you will treat members of diverse groups differentially, and also enables you to compare candidates much more easily.

    Elicit the maximum amount of useful information by asking open-ended questions, says Huma Gruaz, president and CEO of Alpaytac Marketing Communications/Public Relations. Avoid questions like, "Can you make decisions?" and instead ask "Can you describe a time in which you had to make a difficult decision?" In an interview, Gruaz always asks these three questions:

    • What were the most and least favorite parts of your previous jobs? (This lets you know their passion.)
    • What do you consider to be your biggest achievement? (This lets you know how high the person sets his/her goals and what they consider to be a big achievement.)
    • What is the biggest regret of your career? (This gives them the opportunity to be honest and forthcoming, and lets you know if they're able to learn from mistakes.)

    If you want candidates to elaborate more, try repeating or restating the question; ask for an example; or if all else fails, sit silently, says Baker. Then the candidate will feel obligated to fill the silence.

    Or ask the candidate a question that will require them to be flexible or quick on their feet, says Gruaz. For example, ask them for ideas on a new product. If they say, "I can't give any ideas without more information," that's not a good sign.

    Don't ask "What is your greatest weakness?" says Dattner. That encourages candidates to dress up their strengths, like saying "I'm a perfectionist" or "I care too much." Instead, ask questions like "How will this job enable you to stretch your professional capabilities?" or "How will you need to learn and grow in order to be successful in this new job?"

     

    Evaluation of the Job Candidate

    A top priority of every interview is to determine if the candidate will fit in with the culture of your workplace, says Mark Faust, author of "Growth or Bust! Proven Turnaround Strategies to Grow Your Business."

    Gruaz shares this story on the importance of choosing a candidate who fits in with the workplace culture: "One candidate I recently interviewed told me that the job description reminds her of the movie 'Devil wears Prada,' after I told her that in our industry (PR) employees should be ready to be available after hours. The statement she made was a guarantee that she would not get the job in our company's culture, as we need to be available for our clients if there is an urgent need after hours."

    As the interviewer, ask yourself questions like: Can I eventually put this person in front of my most discerning client, or bring them to a high-powered new business meeting? Will my team members feel comfortable traveling with this person? Will the candidate fit in the culture of our company? If all of the answers are "yes" and the candidate has given responses that point in the right direction, proceed to the next level, says Gruaz.

    Make a note of their handshake, attire, and where and how they sit, says Baker. What does this tell you about the person and how they'll typically interact?

    Pay careful attention to how the candidate talks about issues of credit and blame, says Dattner. If they don't seem to be able to share credit with others, and deny blame for any bad outcomes at past jobs, this can be a warning sign that the candidate is headed for career derailment. Research has shown that people who deny blame or project it onto others have a hard time working with others, admitting their areas for improvement or learning over time.

    Look for employees who are energized by change, versus disrupted by change, says Wendy Komac, speaker and author of "I Work With Crabby Crappy People." Focus on their confidence and capacity to change. Ask questions that will show whether or not the applicant will look to their boss and colleagues to get permission for everything they do, and determine if the applicant considers transformation part of their daily life and not just special circumstances. You cannot hire the person who always wants to play it safe. Do they prefer a predictable environment versus a chaotic environment? Are they willing to make change happen, or do they wait for change to happen?

    During the interview, consider the appropriateness of the length of the applicants' answers, says Baker. At first, the answers will probably be too long or too short, simply because they are nervous. But once they become comfortable, try to judge their conversational aptitude. Note your instincts, and take personality into account.

    But don't worry if the person isn't totally comfortable, even by the end of the interview, Baker continues. Some very valuable people with tremendously useful skills will never interview well. That fact should count against them if they manage people or have significant client contact, but otherwise keep going without discounting them too early.

    Drawing on unusual strategies to find out more information about the applicant can be useful, says Dean Bare, managing director at Stanton Chase International, an executive-search firm. A dazzling resume won't tell you anything about the applicant's personality, but taking someone out for dinner or golf can give you more insight. How the candidate treats and interacts with others will become apparent in these environments. The right candidate will maintain their character during formal and non-formal, and stressful and non-stressful, situations.

    Don't look for someone just like you, says Baker. Your firm will benefit more from someone not like you (no offense!). No one needs a business full of clones. So if you are the "no-nonsense analytical" type hiring a sales person, don't be offended by their exuberance.

    At the end of the interview, tell the candidate what you'll do now, how you'll contact them, and roughly when this will happen, says Baker. Ask them to call if something changes. And give them a chance to ask questions too.

    Afterwards, write down your impressions immediately before talking with others about them, says Baker. Next, ask the front-desk person what they thought of this individual (or better yet, ask them to be observant ahead of time). How did the candidate wait? How did they treat others in the office? These can be telltale signs.

     

    Good luck with your interviews!

    Gracie


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