Tuesday, June 2, 2009

First Tuesdays/PRSA


I remember a single afternoon, sixteen years ago in St. Louis, when I met two dynamic women who changed my professional life for the best. One I never had another contact with and can't remember her name, but still she influences me; the other became my first mentor in public relations and is still a friend today. I was attending a one-day conference with a job fair component, sponsored by the St. Louis chapter of PRSA, the Public Relations Society of America. I had left law school and was not exactly sure what to do next, only knew that I had to do something. My mom is the one who steered me toward public relations work, giving me some of the best career advice I ever received. She worked in PR before I arrived in her life, and she could say from experience that the skills I'd learn in a PR position would be among the most valuable and most transferable—though perhaps I'd want to stay in the industry. She was absolutely right. Although I did eventually leave the world of professional PR, still I use the lessons and tools in almost everything I do. She also advised me to focus on the agency side, and not the in-house, client side; that, too, was right on the money for my personality. The pace was faster, the daily work more diverse when you had multiple clients in different industries. So I remember going to this conference and to my first job fair. I remember the laborious effort to whip up a resume, worrying about how thin it was (those days are happily a thing of the past). I remember the conference meeting room, in some hotel, with its metal-framed chairs upholstered with a benign gold-on-red patterned material. And a panel of speakers, one of whom was this woman whose name I can't recall. She was a freelancer—a writer, I believe—who must have worked on PR projects, maybe wrote press releases, otherwise I'm not sure she'd have been at a PRSA event. What I remember about her was that she was quite young, very determined, had a great energy and independence, and she'd made it all work to her advantage. She talked about the freelance life, the constant search for the next gig, and it seemed daunting to me then (still does now, sometimes), being as I was, a person with little experience and no contacts to speak of. It was not the right time for me to work on my own, but her ability to do it planted a seed. The thing I've carried with me over nearly twenty years, though: her "First Tuesdays" program. She described how on the first Tuesday of each month, she would dedicate her time and attention to one thing and one thing only: phone calls to contacts. She explained how on Mondays, after a weekend, there was too much scrambling to get back into the groove of the workweek, too many things to assess and organize for the week, and she didn't want to bother anyone on Mondays. Later in the week was just that, later. So she picked Tuesdays, and stuck to it. It was a simple thing, but the idea of setting aside a specific day each month for this activity, and not just doing it here and there (though I'm sure she made continuing calls at other times), was an eye-opener to me. The ways you could approach people and that there was a work rhythm to everyone's week that could be taken into consideration . . . First Tuesdays felt like a great prop, and I have often remembered and used it, whether job-hunting or just doing a bit of relationship maintenance, staying in touch. Today, being the first Tuesday of June, I'm back at it. Although email and social media networks like Facebook have pretty much replaced the telephone for me, I have made some great connections today. I wish I could reach out to that nameless memory of a woman from St. Louis to thank her for sharing her energy and strategies at a time when I needed every bit of advice I could get. Instead, I sent a message to my former boss and friend, the other woman I met on that conference day, to thank her for giving me that first break I needed to create a new path for myself. First Tuesdays, as much as they may serve to prowl for job leads, can also be about reconnecting. And gratitude.

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