Lucky 7: My Favorite Tools of 2014

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert of any sort, nor is this a sponsored post. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can move forward with the point of this post. With a contractor/marketing intern-ish position that started off the year and an epic tech PR internship to end the year, 2014 led me to discover new tools and apps that I figured might be useful to others too.

While some of these tools are newbies, some are oldies, but goodies. This is in no particular order.

1. Slack

It comes as no surprise that Slack has made the cut. Listed as no. 1 by Mashable in its 10 Startups to Watch in 2015 list, I definitely agree that it is one of the most useful communication tools. As someone who has used a variety of internal communication platforms including Lotus Notes messenger and Outlook messenger, Slack brings a bright and entertaining method to communicate. From its Giphy extension that allows me to pull up puppy gifs to share with the rest of the office to its breakdown of channels for each account to communicate internally x2 (communication inception), this is a tool that every SMB should consider. Did I also mention it has a really sleek-looking iOS app?

2. Cision

Cision is a PR classic that reigns over the indusry. When I’m building a media list, Cision is the tool I venture to first before hunting down a reporter’s information directly. For the most part, the contact information and beat of each reporter/analyst is up-to-date. While there is still a lot of room for growth, I believe that Cision’s recent acquision of UK-based Gorkana and Visible Technologies and merger with Vocus, the PR software world can only get better.

3. Box

I was a Dropbox girl –  was. The first sharing platform I ever used was Dropbox – both for my freelance PR projects and internships. However, this year, I’m convinced that Box is my new love. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m on a business account or if I just like the overall design better, but I just prefer Box now. Whenever there’s a project that requires a deck or a plansbook, I save a copy to my personal Box account for easy access anywhere. And of course, my professors also love holding office hours during times when I should be interning, which causes me to send the immediate Slack message of “WFH today.” Thanks to Box, I can access all necessary files from my personal computer and not be labeled as the flakey intern – whew!

4. Sprout Social

I’ve always been a HootSuite girl by default because it’s the only platform that’s been used at previous internships. However, Sprout Social is on par, if not better at times. Like HootSuite, it allows you to schedule Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and recently, LinkedIn posts for all clients. One of the best features, in my opinion, is the queue option, which chooses the best time to post for that account, based on previous post engagements/impressions. I’m also a huge fan of the analytics portion.

5. Feedly 

I’m constantly looking for new platforms to read news. The best part about Feedly is the ability to break up news into categories. I currently have a personal Feedly with groups for tech, PR/marketing, business and top tier publications for general news.

6. theSkimm

I started using theSkimm during spring of my sophomore year and I’m so glad they’re finally taking advantage of college campuses. My entire newsfeed has at least a handful of student ambassadors who are promoting the easy-to-read email newsletter that breaks down the latest news in jargon-free language. When I’m riding the West Campus bus from my apartment to a class, I’ll open up my email and skim through the newsletter.

7. Canva

Have you ever wanted to make a quick graphic, but you don’t have time to sit there and layer images on Photoshop or mess with the vectors on Illustrator? Canva is here to save the day! I sound like an informercial because it’s that easy. For those of us who only know the basics of the Creative Suite or don’t know it at all, Canva is a quick and easy tool to develop graphics for simple flyers, Facebook banners, Twitter cover photos, and much more. The best part? They have already sized the image for you and most of the graphics to drag and drop are free. The ones that aren’t free are generally only $1. Woo!

Advertisements

Intersections: Why I chose a full-time consulting job.

I am a public relations major. I have never held a consulting internship. How does a public relations major end up accepting a full-time offer with a huge consulting firm?

You can ask anyone around me and they’ll tell you that being around me made them more nervous about the job hunt than they probably needed to be. Even while I was finishing up my internship with Amazon this summer, I was already reaching out to potential companies I could see myself working for. I started writing down what I wanted in a company culture, what benefits I needed, a salary range that was livable for the areas I wanted to move to, and the skills I could bring to the table.

I set up coffee meetings, drove to Silicon Valley and San Francisco tech companies to meet recruiters for coffee – I just wanted to know what I was getting myself into. I knew I wanted to pursue the tech industry, but I didn’t know when to apply or how to throw myself in for consideration. Never once did consulting actually cross my mind. I kept looking for “marketing specialist” or “public relations associate” positions.

Then, the school year started and job postings started to roll in the on the college career services website. I applied to anything I could get my hands on. I saw a posting for a full-time management consultant. I figured it couldn’t hurt to look. I read through the description and realized I had the skills listed. While it didn’t have the marketing/PR title I thought I wanted, it had what I wanted as far as development.

After long rounds of interviews, meet and greets, and “researching” my interviewers on LinkedIn – I got an offer. So now what?

I would be blantantly lying if I said I wasn’t nervous – I’m incredibly nervous, scared out of my mind actually. There’s a part of me that still wonders if this is the right decision. Am I giving up the dream of eventually becoming a product marketing manager of an enterprise software company? Not entirely. Because my goal from the moment I started college was always to work with tech companies to some capacity and apply the skills I had as a non-technical within the technical word.

From the age of 18, I knew I wanted to play the role of being the intersection between technology and communication.

Upon utter panic of making the wrong decision, I spoke to my recruiter and found myself placed in the heart of technology – San Francisco, exactly where I wanted to be. Additionally, I discussed options on the types of projects. While there is no guarantee that I’ll be placed with my dream project, there’s a higher chance of communication, media and technology projects – woo!

The lesson of the story? Don’t confine yourself to what the title of a job. It sounds beyond cliche, but what I’ve learned from the job hunt is that the skills learned in one area can easily be applied to another.

To answer the question I’ll be asked throughout the holidays by my relatives: yes, I’m excited and terrified all at the same time, but I can’t wait for this new adventure.

Why You Should Start a Startup, even it doesn’t work out

With Austin Startup Week just around the corner, I figured it was time to put together another blog post. Plus, WordPress has been nagging me about how it’s been over 20 days since my last blog post. Okay, WordPress, I was just waiting for the right moment to blog – calm down.

From my resume and past work experience, you would probably never guess that I’m actually a huge supporter of startups and entrepreneurship. Apparently something about working for well-known billion dollar companies screams, “I hate startups and small businesses.” Plot twist: I love them.

In fact, I’m a huge supporter of starting a startup. Recently, Y Combinator’s Sam Altman designed a class called “How to Start a Startup,” and guess who is following along? Me. So why in the world do I even care about the startup community? Because I actually believe that attempting to start a business is probably one of the most useful experiences you can ever do during your professional career.

Whether or not your startup achieves an IPO, at least Series A funding, VC backings or completely flops – you still learn something along the way. I can honestly say that I fall under the last category.

That one time I started a business with some really smart guys

In the summer of 2013, my friend Clarke Rahrig messaged me, along with a few other guys about meeting up at the local Dog & Duck pub for some drinks and to throw ideas for a project. Little did I know that spending quality time with these guys would result in a potential business, lots of primary research for a business and a very odd naming of a company that didn’t flourish, but made us better people because it.

Alparka was the name, parking was our game. The concept was simple: you have a parking spot that you’re not using this weekend, let us be the Craig’s List to sell it out to someone who is in town for a Texas football game – simple enough considering Austin’s constant struggle for parking, especially during a game day.

The lessons

Four engineers, a sales guy and a PR girl apparently leads to one hell of an experience. We were the epitome of Austin Troll, LLC  – yes, that’s what we called ourselves and the Groupme still holds that title to this day. So what did I learn from these fellow trolls? I’ve worked on various group projects in my advertising and PR classes and I’ve worked with my fair share of engineers and computer scientists, so what made this experience any different?

1. Working on a diverse team: We each had our talents. Clarke had a knack for coming up with ideas for a startup / finding a way to start a startup to replace his Senior Design class for engineering majors. Farzad Yousefi was an electrical engineer who dabbled in student affairs on the side. Aazim Sitabkhan was a biomedical engineer who was a closeted computer scientist. Matt Dodson was a computer science and mechanical engineering double major who had an odd mix of talents in programming. And of course, your two non-technicals: me and Tyler Durman – the PR girl and the corporate communication major doing his victory lap with a talent for selling you basically anything. We somehow meshed together. Yes, the beers did help, but we also had a lot of help from white boards and Google Docs filled with ideas.

2. Use your resources: If I had a dollar for every time I played the, “but I’m a student and I just want to pick your brain” card with a local entrepreneur, I would be a well-off woman. We asked as many questions as we could to every connection we had. We wanted to understand the market, introduce our idea for feedback and tell everyone what we were doing to get some hype. We even had a website for others to review. Whenever there were Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) office hours for Brett Hurt, we picked his brain. We casually asked our friends about our business model. We did anything we could get our hands on.

3. Support: It sounds like such a simple concept, but many forget that when building a business, there is no way in hell you can do it on your own. Having the support of your team is what gets you anywhere. Even though Alparka didn’t flourish like we wanted to, I can honestly say I always had the support of the guys. They were always there to tell me when my ideas were great and when they had no relevance to the business model – better to hear critiques from your team members who want to see you succeed.

4. It’s okay to fail: I’ve mentioned it a few times throughout this post, but Alparka didn’t play out like we wanted it to. Three of the members of our team graduated and went off to work for cool companies and three of us are graduating in May 2015. Did we technically fail? Yes. Are we going to give up the idea of starting a business together? No. Nothing brings strangers and acquaintances together better than attempting to start a business together. Friendship was an added bonus at the end of the adventure.

Have an idea for a startup? Do it. The worse thing that can happen is it’s not currently the right idea or it’s not the right time. Eventually, however, you’ll get there. Just look at successful student startups like my friend Bradley Roofner and his partner Logan Brown‘s HatTee or my friend Sunny DasTexas Custom Apparel.

If you’re a student, start a startup. It will change your undergrad experience for the better.

Fear and Excitement.

photo: pinterest

Today is August 19, 2013. At this time last year, I had just finished moving into my very first college apartment off-campus and started my first college internship. A year ago today, I had the same feelings I do now, but for different reasons. A year ago I was afraid of what the new school year will bring, but I was excited to see what I would learn about myself during my sophomore year.

Now, a year later, I still have those feelings. I am afraid that I have put too much on my plate, but I’m excited to see what this new school year will bring. I have had a crazy and wonderful summer. I learned so much and met the most fantastic people who made me laugh until my cheeks hurt and a person who made me realize I was capable of feeling again.

As of right now, this is the current state of my life:

  • Ordering textbooks
  • Spending time with family
  • Scanning Facebook groups for apartment goods
  • Spending time with friends
  • Google Hangout meetings for student organizations & projects
  • Promoting $2100 by my 21st birthday campaign
  • Becoming incredibly giddy when I see the number going up (see above)
  • Trying to convince NI to bypass the “you must be a full-time permanent employee to get matched $1000” rule
  • Sending emails
  • Applications
  • Sending SnapChats
  • Eating every bit of my mother’s homemade cooking I can
  • Finding a suitable pair of jeans and new running shoes because those are the two items my wardrobe is lacking
  • Planning a wine tour
  • Saving up for at trip to Philly/east coast
  • Figuring out if it’s worth it to travel to New York during spring break for a school-sponsored networking trip
  • Cutting back on coffee
  • Drinking more tea
  • Praying that I don’t end this upcoming school year an utter failure at life

The Omnicom & Publicis Merger and PR

Image: AdAge

Over the weekend, Omnicom Group and Publicis Groupe, two advertising giants, announced a “merger of equals” to become a $23 billion organization, making it the largest advertising holding company in the world. To some, this is just news to skim through, but for my advertising/PR-crazed friends and me, it was news worth reading in depth. Although it affects more advertising agencies, a few PR firms were also swept into the merger. Some of which I fondly, including FleishmanHillard and Porter Novelli – both have Austin offices.

After reading my fair share of articles, tweets and shares, I’ve come to the conclusion that this merger is overall a positive for the industry. Two giants with a variety of clients coming under one roof to become a powerhouse was a smart move that could potentially empower growth and new techniques across agencies.

Unfortunately, not all are too content with the merger. The newly combined holding company  will result in corporate brands Pepsi and Coca-Cola to be under the same roof. However, smaller companies within the organization will be able to have a wider reach and claim more clients.

From a PR stand-point, PR agencies are not affected as much as advertising agencies. However, the lines are already so blurred between advertising and PR, the course of action for the merger will result in an increase of combining of both paid and earned media.

Whether you’re a fan of the merger or not, you have to admit that this is a landmark event for the advertising and PR industry. An event that not only dethrones WPP’s dominance in the industry, but also creates the potential for continued expansion of diversity and reach.

Dear Out-of-Town Interns

Dear Out-of-Town Interns,

I don’t think you understand just how much of a positive impact you have made on my summer. Whether we worked at the same company or met through during the Austin Area Picnic, I’m so lucky to have had the opportunity to have met you. You are amazing, yes, you.

The 40+ hours I spent working this summer didn’t seem so bad because the lunch breaks laughing with you made them worth coming to the office. The weekends spent exploring the great city of Austin with you made me realize once again why I love this city so much. The road trips, long car rides, endless amounts of food consumed – I wouldn’t have enjoyed each moment if it weren’t for you.

When you all leave, one by one, within the next few weeks or even next week, just know that I won’t forget. Thanks to the modern source of social media, I can actually follow your lives – in a not creepy way of course. Let’s keep in touch. Let me crash on your couch when I finally save up enough to travel around the country or better yet, the world, consistently. You’ll always have a place to stay when you’re visiting Austin – as long as you give me a heads up.

Out-of-town interns, thank you for making my summer memorable.

With greatest regards,

Vi

The source of my obsession.

At some point in every internship, every mentor, manager and colleague always sits me down for coffee and asks, “what made you choose technology over every industry?” That’s the part where I cue the shortened version of my very cheesy story.

When I was applying to colleges, I didn’t fully understand what I wanted to major in; all I knew was that science wasn’t my forte and that I liked communicating with people. Come senior year, I enrolled in a professional internship program course and found myself listening to a variety of speakers across several industries. One in particular stood out to me. He was a systems engineer for Cisco who had immigrated to America and achieved what many would classify as “the American dream.” After he spoke, I emailed him and thanked him for the opportunity to listen to him and then he offered me something that would define my career goals: a tour of the Cisco campus.

When I ventured to Cisco, I knew the fellow interns who toured with me were all engineering or computer science – I was be sole marketing kid. I looked around at all the products, became mesmerized by the equipment and admired the engineers who spoke technical terms in such an eloquent manner. In that moment, I knew what realm of PR and marketing I wanted to pursue.

As I’ve said a million times before and I’ll say it again, I’m perfectly happy with my decision to enter the technology and engineering industry. I don’t know if the systems engineer knew how much of an impact that one tour had on my career goals, but he did and for that, I am forever grateful.

Instagram’s Video Feature Could Be Its Advertising Downfall

Image: ABC News

Recently, Facebook announced that one of its new improvements for Instagram would be the addition of a video function. The video update would allow users to film a 15 second video with what I would like to call a “hipster filter.” Yesterday, the mobile app update became available on both iPhone and Android devices. Naturally, I downloaded it.

I have yet to film using this new feature, but my Instagram feed immediately began filling up with random videos. I like to think Facebook mainly did this to compete against Twitter’s Vine. A while ago, Twitter announced that Vine would become available for Android users via the Goolge Playstore. Within the first few days, Vine received more downloads than Instagram. My theory is that most Android users already had the Instagram app and were curious to try out the newly added Vine app, not necessarily because it’s a better app – they’re both good for different reasons.

I’m sure Facebook has had the video function in the works long before the addition of the Vine Android app, but its release date might prove to be a factor for downfall. The Vine app allows brands to showcase their company in a creative gif-like manner within the span of six seconds. Instagram video, on the other hand, allows a 15 second video. Now, when I initially saw this time frame, I thought it would be incredibly difficult for brands to think of a creative way to use it. Brands have been transitioning towards a more concise, outside of the box advertising, how could they possibly fill a whole 15 seconds?

After having coffee with a social media coordinator this morning, we both realized that 15 seconds is about the same duration as your average television ad. So, my question is, how will Instagram regulate the free ad time corporate Instagrams will begin to use? Will Instagram begin charging for video advertisements? How would they even regulate ads?

What initially seemed like a cool update for regular users will surely cause some advertising punches to Instagram corporate. Brands, on the other hand, will most likely rejoice for the free advertising outlet they can explore. But this also means that brands have to start generating their creative juices again because users are Instgram are not going to appreciate watching the same 15 second TV ad while they browse through the sea of food porn and outfits of the day.

#InternLife

If you have been following me on Twitter this semester, you’ll notice my #internlife tweets have increased significantly. Why? Because I actually enjoy what I’m doing this semester. But why should a student intern at all? Sure, the degree plan for some course catalogs state that we have to intern in order to even graduate or those around you are constantly telling you that an internship is necessary in order to acquire a job. Well, as someone who has interned at four different companies/organizations and entering my fifth this summer, I can tell you I’ve learned my fair share of lessons from interning.

They’re watching you.

If you think landing an internship means you’re the best of the best and you have nothing else to prove, I’m going to proceed to laugh at you – loudly and obnoxiously. I apologize for being rude, but seriously, landing an internship means you’re a good candidate and the company thinks you’re a good fit. However, you still have a lot to prove. Contrary to popular belief, everyone in the office is watching you. Don’t think just because you’re an intern that your work goes unnoticed, so make sure it’s great work. Whether it’s writing a simple press release to be put on a wire source or cleaning the office – do it well.

It’s not always glamorous.

Sure I’ve worked for companies where lunch is catered is free movie tickets are involved, but it’s not always fun and games. I’ve had to wash dishes, clean the office, vacuum, and a whole lot of other tasks that are far from fun and pretty. I have this theory that if you can do this basic chores well and do it without complaining, your supervisors will trust you with more important tasks. How can they trust you sitting in on a client meeting and presenting information when you can’t even take out the trash without rolling your eyes? Suck it up, princess.

You are part of a team.

Yes, you are an intern and you are at the bottom of the leadership ladder, but that does not mean you aren’t allowed to speak up once in a while. From my past experiences, I’ve learned that my supervisors actually like when I contribute to the team. If you can sit in during meetings and learn, then do it. They hired you for a reason; they want a new and innovative opinion on the subject matter – give them one. Which brings me to another point, if you are interning at an office where you aren’t included as a member of the team, you’re probably going to be really unhappy.

Company culture.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the fit. Never intern for a company that doesn’t promote growth and have a great company culture. I don’t care if they’re offering you a large hourly wage – you’ll be unhappy in the long-run. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

Social responsibility.

I don’t volunteer at a soup kitchen every week or donate a portion of my paycheck to a charity, I admit to that. However, when choosing a company, I admire companies that actually take into consideration their influence on the community. If a CEO or founder runs the company successful while sitting on the board of a non-profit organization, my respect for the company as a whole increases significantly.

Have fun.

Internships are a learning opportunity for you to discover if this is your “calling” and you’ll discover what you like, what you don’t like, what kind of team/personality types you work well with and whether this is an industry where you will find your future career, or just another 9:00 – 5:00. Have fun with it, learn your co-workers names and their likes/dislikes. Build relationships because you never know when you’re going to have to call on these people again – from a recommendation for a future job or just someone worth knowing to grab coffee with – get to know your team.

Behind-the-Scenes.

I was initially going to write a blog update on Monday, but it didn’t seem right to write about anything during the Boston Marathon bombing event. So to those who still used scheduled social media updates during events like this, please don’t.

But I digress. Back to the original intention of this post.

————————

Image: Jobstr

This semester, I had the opportunity to have more hands-on public relations experience at a small marketing and communications agency. Needless to say, my decision to intern at the agency over a well-known technology company was a good choice. I have learned more from this internship alone than any of my prior ones. I can honestly say that I am definitely prepared to go back in-house at a large technology company with these tools under my belt.

Aside from the writing and communications software I learned, I also discovered the real meaning of public relations. You see, the media portrays public relations as a glamorous job – it’s not. Public relations encompasses all forms of marketing and communications; it is a management function and more importantly, it is a behind-the-scenes role within or for a business entity. As a public relations professional, your name will most likely not be on that long article you spent hours researching and wrote for your client. No one will know directly that you worked hard to call every journalist within the southwest region just to pitch a story to your client. It’s the type of work for someone who is willing to put in the effort, is passionate about a successful outcome for the good of the client and the public, and someone who doesn’t mind not always receiving praise for their hard work.

According to an article by Business Insider, the most powerful PR professionals are the ones you never hear about. These individuals work in the background, advising CEOs and presidents and would often times prefer to stay out of the limelight. People like me might fan-girl all over top SVPs and well-known PR agency CEOs, but the majority of the world doesn’t even know who I’m talking about when I mention names like Fred Cook of Golin Harris or Melissa Waggener Zorkin of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. But who the world knows are the clients that fall under these large public relations agencies.

Contrary to popular belief, not every aspiring PR pro has a natural bitch face. The majority of are actually really excited about entering the industry and proving to the world that PR is a function that is still needed across all industries and a spotlight reward is not something we’re after. Besides, public relations is a mutually beneficial relationship between an organization and its publics.