20-Something Hodgepodge

Advice for the Class of 2014: Accept That There is No Path. You Might As Well.

It’s graduation season and I keep seeing all kinds of “advice to the class of 2014”  blog posts. I have now been out in the real world for five whole years. Given my five years of real-world experience and that I am now an expert on everything ever, I present to you my thoughts for the class of 2014.

My thoughts can be compiled into one sentence, actually: (more…)

The Hardest Thing to Market: Me

No company’s marketing has moved me in the past few years quite the way that Chubbies has.

Chubbies makes short shorts for frat bros, and they are on a crusade to rid the world of cargo shorts one pair of gingham print “Danny Dukes” at a time.

The mission is concise and clear, and in a startup world full of “It’s this for that!” and 200-floor elevator pitches, I appreciate the focus. Maybe Chubbies wants to be this huge lifestyle brand one day. Maybe they have this big, broader vision in mind. It’s possible, in fact, probable, given what I know of founders so far. But that they were able to dodge the shiny objects and channel those dreams into a single focus is an accomplishment to be revered. (more…)

Career and Life Update

By now, the 12 of you who read this blog have heard about my next career steps. But just in case there is a 13th or 14th person who hasn’t been texted, emailed or joined me for coffee or wine over the past few weeks – here is your update.

I’m no longer at Localytics. I’m doing some marketing consulting right now as I re-energize, explore and figure out my next career steps. In particular, I’m excited to be working with the awesome people at One Mighty Roar on all things marketing. If your company needs help with content strategy, messaging or anything else (I’m well-rounded) – reach out! If I’m not a fit for a project I’ll try to introduce you to someone who is. (more…)

Cancer Has a Marketing Problem

I’ve been meaning to write this post all month, but I’m just doing it now. It’s September 27th (almost 28th). But, what the hell, here it goes.

September is Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month, which is the closest thing that commemorates or recognizes uterine cancer. This is something that came into my family’s life about a year ago when my mom got diagnosed.

As bad news would, we got the news a few days after I was told my startup was out of money and trying to get acquired, but there was no guarantee I’d have a job at the new company so the message was: “Prep your resume kiddo.” Typical, right?

So, startups. And cancer. Uterine fucking cancer.

Yoplait recognized it on their Facebook page, which made me feel really happy and included and represented.

Then I saw a whole bunch of people kind of hating on there — saying Yoplait should instead/also support this cause or that cause.

I get it. I really do. We all want to feel validated by our favorite brands. We hope they think of us.

There are a lot of organizations that support all cancers. That’s good stuff. I also believe there are good reasons to have separate marketing and communities for individual diseases. That’s why I want “other” cancer months — like October, which is Breast Cancer Month, for example — to get the attention they deserve.

Why? Well, honestly, because as a complete medical newb myself, I want to make sure the messaging is clear. Medical stuff is like science, which is kind of like math. Math? What? If it’s math and it can’t be done with an Excel sheet I’m all…

So spell it out for us. What are the exams we need? That’s why messaging needs to be specific. It has to be specific so it is effective and clear for the consumer — the medical newbs.

Here are a few ways specific months and specific marketing messaging helps.

First, people need to know about particular exams to ask for that can lead to early detection. Sometimes a certain cancer impacts a certain group of people.

Second, sometimes new research will show the contrary. The findings reveal that the cancer also impacts a group outside the typical demographic. That stuff is best communicated through an organization or “month” solely dedicated to that specific cancer.

Third, some cancers don’t have many symptoms, if any symptoms whatsoever. Uterine cancer certainly doesn’t. It isn’t until you have some seriously strange bleeding patterns and you pretty much have the fucking cancer that you find out you have the fucking cancer. 

So again, people need to know about what exams to ask for. That call to action is best communicated through targeted campaigns and organizations.

My mind clearly knows that everyone else having their own cancer months is a good thing.

But as I see everyone else’s cancer month about to get more attention and funding, this is how my heart feels: I feel left out.

I feel alienated and lonely. I feel pissed off. I feel confused and scared and alone.

It sounded crazy to me when I felt this way a year ago, but as I’ve mulled it over it doesn’t seem too far fetched after all.

Clearly, the funding, and therefore the attention and visibility is probably going to go to the diseases that are more well known and prevalent. But it still makes me feel bad that “my” stuff doesn’t get attention.

I wish I had a solution.

Be Confident, But Not Certain

(I think Madeleine Albright said that.)

Recently, two blog posts from recent graduates have caught the attention of the internet at large:

In The Huffington Post, Taylor Cotter wrote about The Struggle of Not Struggling. She reflected on the consequences of having her life all figured out – career, 401k, location  etc, at the age of 22. She feels she is missing out on some formative years of freelance and ramen.

In Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25, Cathryn Sloane gave her thoughts on why younger people are the preferred candidates for social media manager roles, reasoning essentially that Gen Y’ers have always known first and foremost how to use social media socially – not professionally – and that is how consumers want to engage with brands on these platforms.

I get the sense that Taylor came across a little less grateful than she probably actually is. And Cathryn probably came off a little more critical of older generations than she probably planned on. Even though I definitely disagree with them, and shared both articles expressing my disagreement, I’ve seen the internet pretty much cyberbully the crap out of them and I feel like I need to make a point.

For a whole slew of us who work for the internet, the particularly ambitious will establish an online presence of some kind to display their expertise and gain some extra practice in their given skillset. (And as we know, in this economy, it’s probably only the particularly ambitious mice who get the cheese anyway.) For designers or engineers, maybe that’s Dribbble or GitHub profiles. For marketing and PR and social media types, this may mean a blog about marketing and PR and social media. I just want people to ask themselves: What would you have written when you were 22? What if it had been judged not by your college professor, but by the internet at large?

Sometimes I look back at blog posts and guest posts I wrote senior year of college or when I just graduated and I  just cringe.  My writing was terrible, and I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was talking about. And it’s all out there now, in it’s awful glory. But it wasn’t arrogance, I was just genuinely trying to get out of the restaurant and show that I loved PR and knew a little bit about it. And I did, and I did.

Entry level isn’t entry level any more. We expect new graduates to “hit the ground running” as soon as we hire them. We, the companies, literally cannot afford to expect anything less than that. We grow up sooner now. Even interns don’t get to figure it all out and see where this all goes. Yet when we see young people having confidence in the opinions they express through their online presences, we don’t really like what they have to say and denounce it as short sighted. So – what the hell you guys?

It is tough to put your work and yourself out there so much when you still have so much to learn. We’re all just doing the best we can for who we are at the time, and what people like Taylor and Cathryn are doing isn’t easy. They’re trying, and there are a whole lot of people their age trying a whole lot less and complaining a whole lot more. At the risk of sounding patronizing, I say, cut them freaking some slack.

How Your Relationships Impact Your Career

Tonight I was in Central Square at a startup event for my friend’s company.

I was with some of my favorite people, ones I love to spend time with the most.

I left and walked to the T stop.

I strolled along the side of Massachusetts Avenue in front of my old office where my ex-boyfriend used to drop me off on Monday mornings after a weekend together.

I was always grateful for the ride to work, really thankful for his time.

This will sound awful, but genuine appreciation aside, this other part of me felt relieved to get back to my weekday life, which felt more natural to me: sarcasm, work, startups, my friends, internet, the gym. Space. I wanted to want that weekend life, but I didn’t. It’s not my perfect life, and that’s ok.

It’s ok.

Before I crossed the street tonight to get the necessary ingredients for my comfort food protein shake at Clear Conscience Cafe, I looked up at my old office where I met my next ex-boyfriend at a company party.

I squinted at the window, noticing its fresh paint and new walls dividing the once open space into tiny separate offices.

It looked a lot different.

But I imagined what it used to look like, what it looked like the day I got a ZipCar on a Saturday morning to move out after we got acquired.

I walked loads of office supplies and startupy knicknacks (ie, the Seth Godin marketing action figure) up and down the stairs.

I soaked it all in. It was a lot to take in. I would never come there to work again. So much had just happened.

Before I left, I stood in the exact spot in the universe where I first met him and took this picture.

____________

I’ve reflected on this one thought ever since I first heard the recording of Sheryl Sandberg’s 2011 Barnard College graduation speech back in May.

The most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further.

I think this might be true.

Relationships can be motivating, and they can also be distracting and negative. Point blank, it’s home life, and that impacts your mindset and the level to which you can focus on work. (For a romantic take, I strongly recommend John Steinbeck’s impossibly beautiful and timeless letter about love here.)

As I’m clearly unmarried, I don’t have much of an opinion on the stay-at-home dad discussion that Sheryl’s point often sparks.

But what I do know is that who you date impacts your career in many ways, but in the simplest way because it impacts how you spend your time.

Not all significant others are cool with you going to a tech networking event and hanging out with a bunch of other dudes, and not everyone thinks a great Sunday afternoon involves getting ahead on work for the week.

But these are aspects of a certain lifestyle and career track. 50 coffees, right?

A lot of people are less likely to achieve 50 coffees if they’re always worried about that awkward jealously argument before or after Starbucks. Dark roast, dark times.

And even if there is no tension about jealously, those are 50 coffees you’re not having with the significant other. There’s only so much time to go around.

On a practical level, the relationships I admire set expectations and plan when to see each other. If you have work to do on a Saturday or have an event to go to on a Thursday, say so.

But this stuff is also about compromise, right? So say when you’ll be done if you’re still going to see that person that night. It’s amazing what setting expectations can do to build trust. From the outside looking in, that seems to allow people to still pursue the things they want to as individuals (like careers, or hobbies) but not neglect each other.

Looking back even to my internship days, I wish I’d put my intentions on the table more in relationships. I wish I didn’t ask if I could go to an event or spend some time working. I wish I just presented it as something I needed to take care of. If I could go back, I would have compromised my time less and made it clear that these things were simply a part of my life. It would have been more fair to both sides.

But had I not been a late bloomer and just done this stuff in the first place, I wouldn’t be so complicated, interesting and choke-full of excuses to play this song and whatever cliche songs I want this week. Right? Right?

Anyway, let’s face it: Splitting your time with someone else flat out sucks sometimes. Single is another relationship option too if you just want to focus on your career, or just because you want to be.

To finish these thoughts, I really wanted to make a joke about hiring fast and firing fast, recruiting A-players to your team, something witty about cofounders, probably something about dating/generating leads/sales funnels and maybe something dirty about conversion rates. Then finally I wanted to find a charming excuse to link to this post by Fred Wilson talking about the importance of family – because that guy blogs like six times a day and I heard he blogs like, on his Blackberry while on the treadmill while on the subway and if an overachieving badass yet also probably workaholic like him recognizes the importance of this stuff then. well. shit. We all should.

But I’ve got nothing. Just… fellow 20-something ladies, don’t be impressed so easily. Your attention and time is valuable – not to mention your heart. Texting you back isn’t a grand gesture. It’s just asking what time you’re coming over.

By the way, someone’s reading that freaking letter at my wedding one day. Whenever that day comes.

4 Reasons I Answer College Students’ Emails

If you’re a professional, I’m sure that you’ve received at one point or another an inquiry from a college student asking about jobs, internships or advice. I respond and I think you should too. This is why:

1. People answered my emails when I was a college student.

I’ve written before how I got my first job in Boston. I sent a lot of emails asking people about their companies or for informational interviews. Granted, it was just one of those informational interviews that turned into a job. But all the coffees and email exchanges I had with other professionals provided me with motivation, direction, momentum and confidence. I am so thankful to the people who helped me, in every little and big way they did. 2 or so years later, how could I not pay it forward?

Granted, I can’t offer a ton of long-term career advice or hindsight. I’m too young still myself. But I can offer a pep-talk/confidence boost/talk about what has or hasn’t worked for me so far. Considering similar conversations I’ve had with people just a few years older than me, I know how even that can be quite helpful.

2. The college student you meet today is the employee you hire tomorrow.

In startupland, we talk a lot about how tough it is to hire talent. The right culture fit and the right skillset is tough to come by. Then we also talk about the importance of networking. There’s a missing link, though. We emphasize the importance of networking with people who can help us, like VCs or more experienced professionals for mentorship. I don’t think we talk enough about the opposite end of that spectrum, which is spending time with an up-and-comer who is that future talent you can add to your team.

3. I remember where I came from.

It seems like everyone wants a developer or a community manager/social media whatchamacallit/something-or-other these days. Where are these people? Well, they’re in college. They’re young. They’re doing annoying things that 20-year-olds do, like joining fraternities and drinking for any special occasion possible, like it being laundry day or Monday or maybe signing their emails to you with emoticons. In addition to internships, yes, that’s what some of Boston’s most promising young entrepreneurs did merely four or so years ago. They might not immediately come off to you as a child prodigy in that email or by a first glimpse at their LinkedIn.

That doesn’t mean they’re not an “A-player!” (And seriously, what the hell is an “A player?”) What it means is that they just don’t know what they don’t know, but they want to know and that’s why they reached out. It also means that ambition and drive can come with a lack of focus, because young ambitious people want to conquer the world. But if you have a conversation with someone and steer that motivation towards a clear direction of the right internships and experiences, they grow into the “A-player” people so dearly want to hire.

My favorite interns, and in my opinion the most successful ones, have been those that were hungry to improve – not necessarily the ones that did everything perfect. Perfect plateaus.

4. I’m busy. So what.

Social media/internet burnout is real. I haven’t blogged here in two months, and I’m inundated with a lot of “communication” in general per the nature of running social media accounts for work. Just like you, there are a ton of DM’s, @replies and emails coming at me. Maintaining ownership of my own time, timeline and inbox is important so I have time to communicate and spend time with the people I love offline.

We’re generally too busy and say yes too often, when it really should be a choice between “Hell yeah!” or “No.” I wish more people saw responding to college students as a “hell yeah!” kinda of an opportunity.

Respond to college students. Don’t just reply to the rockstars. Reply to the hot messes who need honest feedback and give honest feedback. Have coffee with someone. It won’t kill you, actually it’s kinda fun. Expect some of them to flake on you and not even respond back to your advice. Roll your eyes and move on, because there’s another student who will take your feedback and could make an absolute rockstar developer or community manager/social media whatchamacallit one day. If we want to find talent, we can’t forget the source of it.

The Unpaid Intern: All Grown Up

I don’t think Diane Sawyer would’ve worried or complained about being an unpaid journalism intern. I can’t see her waiting around for her college’s career services center to place her in an internship. I envision her beating down doors to get the best opportunities she needed to perfect her writing, research and her on-camera presence, build her professional network – and, not to mention, craft her non-regional dialect of course. Her focus? Her opportunities. Not her limitations.

This recent NY Times article about unpaid internships compelled me to share my thoughts my internships two years after graduation from college, where I did four unpaid internships.

I have an admittedly odd take on unpaid internships.  Students work for free but have to pay for college credit. The companies they work for can say they are paying they student with credit. (The student paid for the credit…so the student is basically paying to work for free…so…um…get it?)

All that said, if I was a college student all over again looking for PR, marketing or journalism internships…here’s my take: I would not turn down learning opportunities at great companies just because they weren’t paid.

I know that’s controversial, but it’s true.

I took issue with several things in this article. I disagree with this:

“Colleges shouldn’t publicize unpaid internships at for-profit companies. They should discourage internship requirements for graduation — common practice in communications, psychology, social work and criminology. They should stop charging students to work without pay — and ensure that the currency of academic credit, already cheapened by internships, doesn’t lose all its value.”

Like I said, at face-value making students pay for academic credit for unpaid internships seems shady. But those were honestly the best college credits I paid for. And as far as the “cheapening of college credit”… Seriously? I’ve benefitted much more from internships than from a lot of the theory they teach in classes. I was delighted to skip out on that stuff that wasn’t going teach me to deliver value for a business, get into an office environment and learn skills that’d make me marketable upon graduation.

Discouraging internship requirements for graduation isn’t going to solve the problem of huge companies not paying their interns. It’s just going to lessen the likelihood that college students are going to take these vital professional opportunities for their careers. That makes them less likely to get jobs upon graduation. Quick! Name all the under or unemployed ’09 or ’10 graduates you can think of… without taking a breath. We’ll be here all night… The last thing we need to do is discourage students whatsoever from gaining this valuable experience.

Like the intensely career-driven 24-year-old I am today, I was a die-hard 19, 20 and 21-year-old as well. I aggressively pursued internships. I did five in college in various areas of marketing, PR and journalism. Then I graduated in the economic shitshow known as May 2009 and moved to Boston two weeks later for a paid internship at a PR agency in Boston. A paycheck?! For the first time?! I was thrilled.

I did a ton of free work throughout college other than internships. I ran my college’s newspaper for free. I did PR campaigns for local businesses through this student-run integrated marketing agency, PRIMA Connections for free. This free work helped me build a portfolio that I could bring with me to those internship interviews – where I would work… for free.

If I were a college student today, I wouldn’t wait around for a minute for my career center to place me in an internship. Why? Because the job market doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way, either. Your college career center isn’t going to be there for you after college to pick your apartments, find you a dentist in a new city, find you a boyfriend who calls you back – none of that. Remember: good things come to those who wait, but only what is left behind by those who hustle. Some would argue that things like a career center is what you are paying a college for. I would argue that if you are a communications student like I was, you are paying a college to support opportunities like a school newspaper etc for you to hone your skills in addition to internships. I didn’t pay St. John Fisher for daycare, thanks.

Again, I would not turn down an opportunity I really wanted because it didn’t pay. You might have to work weekends or do the internship part-time to make time during the week for a part-time job. Most importantly, remember: You are not above Starbucks!

(Side note: If we’re going to take up real estate in the NY Times to talk about issues of unpaid internships, let’s really focus on the people for whom this isn’t an option. Perhaps single parents maybe who don’t have time for school + unpaid internship + jobs?)

When I was an unpaid intern, I complained a lot to my unpaid intern friends about the unfairness of the fact that I wasn’t being paid. It was really exhausting to wake up, work out, go to an internship all day, go straight to the restaurant, work all night, then come home…and do that all week and/or weekend.

So was this always fun? No, it was stressful a lot of times. But it was my time to pay my dues. A little hard work never hurt anyone, in fact – all that hard work helped prepare me for what I’m doing now. And that’s exactly what internships are supposed to do – prepare you for your career. I am glad I did what I did and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

The NY Times article recalls the “plight” of unpaid WNBC intern Will Batson who “scrambled for shelter” during his summer internship in NYC. To Mr. Batson and other unpaid interns I say this:

One day, gentrified and successful, you will be married and live in a house on a cul-de-saq with things like “sofas” and “duvet covers.” You will have non coin-op washers and dryers from legitimate stores like Jordans and not Craigslist or the side of the road. Your fridge will be stocked with essentials other than Bud Light and hot sauce and when the hand soap runs out you’ll buy new handsoap instead of passive-aggressively re-filling it with water until your roommate buys new handsoap. You may have a salary, 401k and savings. Most of all you, will have security. You will have certainty. You will have a career. You may attend block parties or BBQ’s with other former unpaid interns. After a few too many you might talk about college or that crazy summer you spent in NYC couch-hopping and how much fun it was. You’ll laugh until your stomach hurts.

If we really focus on our opportunities and not our limitations things work out in the end. I hope so. I’ll let you know.

In your late teens and early twenties (your unpaid internship and entry-level years) I think there’s this balance of being really comfortable, but yet at the same time being really uncomfortable, with the uncertainty that defines those years. How so? What do I mean? My discomfort at ages 19 through 22ish with not knowing exactly what kind of PR/marketing/journalism (or maybe law school? I considered a lot of things…) job I wanted after graduation or not having a job lined up drove me to internships. Action comforted me because it gave me direction. Being “just” someone’s unpaid intern wasn’t the most glamorous role. But I was comforted by the certainty that I was definitely gaining great experience at that moment, yet simultaneously discomforted by the fact that I so badly wanted to do more than that and earn more than that one day.

So that’s where I am today: content yet restless. Happy but unsatisfied, I’m constantly driven to do better and learn more. Oh and I get paid now, not in tips, and I don’t wear a name-tag, apron or tuxedo to work. That still feels really cool.