Posts filed under ‘Public Relations Adventures at K. Hovnanian’

Fed rules make free summer internships too expensive

I’m thinking of creating a summer shadow program because, apparently, one is no longer allowed to offer unpaid summer internships. God forbid, the government has said, that you might gain something from the work of a student. 

New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse had a very interesting story this week on the topic with some good links to the six federal criteria for running an internship program.

 I can think of few things stupider to do to our students when they are having a hard time finding jobs. While we don’t want to create slave labor summer camps, I would think there could be some balance that would help students gain some real experience and, dare I say, some of us with cut-to-the-bone departments (or agencies) get a little help while teaching. I guess I dare not say.

 Some of this ridiculousness we – the employers – have probably brought on ourselves. If we hire interns as interns, we have an obligation to teach them something other than how to run the photocopier. We all do some scut work, but they’re here to learn and it should be a privilege to teach them. I always told my interns that they will get some crappy jobs, but that they also would write at least one advertorial, one release for distribution, handle one special event and accompany me to meetings. I also asked them if there was something special they wanted to do. In short, they were treated as junior staff.

Apparently, however, allowing them to write that advertorial and release and handle that special event is bad, according to the feds. Somebody is going to have to tell me how I can teach an intern to write a release without having them do one.

 Mr. Greenhouse’s article was not news to me. K. Hovnanian Public Relations had, if I say so myself, an excellent internship program for quite a while. Our interns went on to some really exciting jobs. At least one learned that he didn’t want to do public relations, which I think is a terrific use of an internship.  

 When the real estate market headed south, it took my internship budget with it. I got away with the unpaid thing for a while, but then human resources waved the guidelines under my nose.

I’d love to know how other firms and small departments are dealing with unpaid internships. What are you doing?  Or have you just given up? Use the comment  key below to share your thoughts.

I’m thinking of creating a summer shadow program. It wouldn’t be for the whole summer, but I’m going to see if I can make it worth some credit. I’m sure the intern – I mean, shadow — will get underfoot, so that’ll meet one of the federal criteria. But, for at least a short time, they can see what a corporate public relations operation is. And maybe they can get away with writing a press release or helping with an event. Would that be worthwhile? Or perhaps I should ask if it would provide me with too much benefit.

Anyway, I’ll let you know what happens.

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April 6, 2010 at 11:40 pm 2 comments

Everybody’s Gotta Get the Message

One of my clients called me in the other day to help deal with a potential problem. It’s one of those every-day, but-just-in-case situations and the goal is to keep things under wraps while we fix the problem. One of the tactics he wants from me is a script so every single person on that job can handle questions about the issue that might come their way. My client is very wise.

In my experience, you can organize and execute the best plans for handling anything from a crisis response to simply keeping one’s reputation polished, but if the message doesn’t get from top to bottom, those plans will fall apart.

I was thinking about this as I visited the Manhattan Club in New York City. Here we are, being wooed by this organization so they can take a sizeable chunk of money from us. Yet from the time we were booked until we were well into the process, their polished plans were tarnished by workers who just didn’t understand the message and their role in protecting the company’s reputation.

We were told to arrive at a hotel for a morning meeting, followed by an overnight stay. Those who booked us told us when and where to arrive and park. We parked as directed, but we had been given the wrong directions. That almost cost us an extra $20. Then the registration clerk arrogantly told us that rooms wouldn’t be ready until much later in the afternoon. Yes, we could leave our bags…for tidy sum. Things were not going well.

Next, we stood in the lobby of this customer-service focused club while two bellmen argued over who was supposed to be inside and who was supposed to be outside and who was working harder. Finally one grabbed our bags, slapped a ticket in my wife’s hand, and continued with his argument, clearly annoyed at having been interrupted.

We arrived at the sales desk. Clerks greeted us with terse instructions, followed by what I took to be sarcasm. OK, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. They probably saw the steam coming out of my ears and the blood pressure alarm over my head. They were probably trying to calm me down. Listening to me might have helped. Empathizing and trying to do something about the issues  might have helped. Making jokes just made it worse.

A sales person arrived and introduced herself.  She continued trying to calm me down, first by making light of the situation, and then by trying to tell me not to worry about it. Wrong. She started into her sales presentation, perhaps a little more nervous than usual. Much of her presentation seemed to be pleading with us to “keep an open mind.”  On top of everything else, being told to keep an open mind certainly made me wonder what we had gotten into.

Eventually, our sales person settled into her well-rehearsed routine and things started going more as one would expect in a high-end hospitality organization. And a little while later, a polished sales manager came over. He listened. He repeated back the questions, concerns and problems to assure us that he understood them. And then he started apologizing about the problems and fixing things. He addressed concerns. And he had hard, cold numbers, facts and data to present to us as he took us through the sales presentation again and, yes, closed the deal.

Once he got involved, the people who we worked with clearly understood how the Manhattan Club wanted to be perceived by its guests. It was impressive, but these people were arriving late in the game.

It’s interesting to think how much more impressive the experience would have been — and how much easier the sale might have been — if the messages of customer service had been understood by the people who booked our trip, greeted us at the door and took our luggage. Those were the first people we saw, and they almost drove us away.  And no matter how well everyone else did, our first contacts are the ones I’m still thinking about.

My client is right to make sure that everyone,  starting with those handling basic maintenance or meeting people at the door,  has the messages we want people to get. Those are the people our homeowners and their guests see everyday. They’re the ones who will make the most lasting impressions. It’s a point to keep in mind in every communications plan.

February 23, 2010 at 1:26 am 1 comment

Study says blogging not as popular. Oh well.

First, we were told that if we don’t blog, the world will pass us by. So I learned to blog. Now, I’ve read an article that says that people between 12 and 29 years old don’t like long-form blogging because (a) they don’t like to read and (b) they prefer Facebook and Twitter.

Communications gets more and more interesting, but I kinda wonder what it says about our future leaders that they don’t like to read. Oh well: My parents figured I’d ruin the world because I listened to rock-and-roll, didn’t cut my hair and didn’t focus on my studies.

As a public relations counselor and a communicator, it presents a challenge, but nothing insurmountable and nothing to get alarmed about. It’s just another day on this rapid express we live in. Newspapers, we’re told,  are losing their purpose. Now blogging is losing its purpose. Twitter has purpose, but mostly because experts keep telling us it does. And Facebook is the king (queen?) of communicating. This week. 

Seems to me that all this comes back to the basics of communications: What do you want to say, who do you want to say it to and what’s the best way to say it?  If I primarily wanted to talk with very young people, I’d use all of the media that they might read, and focus on Facebook and, maybe, YouTube. I don’t. I want to talk to people who are a little older and want to buy a home and I want to talk with reporters and opinion leaders. Seems to me Facebook and Twitter have a role in that, but so does a blog. And, by the way, so does the local daily newspaper those people read and, antiquated though it  may seem, so do magazines and maybe even post cards.

There are so many ways to communicate these days, that it feels like every communications effort requires a multiple choice pick list.  Chatting now requires a drop-down menu. If I want to talk about the movie I saw Tuesday night (I did that on Twitter and got lots of responses), I can choose one group of media that friends (real friends) will see. If want to talk about some  aspect of business, like how impressed I was with the homes at Four Seasons at Harbor Bay, same pick-list, different choices.

The challenge is knowing your audience well enough to know what to pick and then how to communicate through those media. That hasn’t changed and it never will.

February 4, 2010 at 12:54 pm


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