Sunday, September 30, 2012

Build Portfolios and Personal Networks, Communication Advisors Tell Students

     "Any advantage you can have over other people is a great benefit," veteran corporate communicator Keith Lindenburg, chair of the College of Charleston's Department of Communication Advisory Council, told students Friday during a visit to my 9 a.m. multimedia reporting class.
     "Find something you're passionate about and turn it into a career," said fellow council member Mike Touhill, director of public relations for Kiawah Partners, a Lowcountry real estate company that is also developing properties in Ireland and St. Kitts, when speaking to my 10 a.m. multimedia reporting students.
     Both men have plenty of experience to back up their advice. Lindenburg has held high-level corporate communications positions at IBM and Deloitte, as well as executive jobs at major international public relations agencies Weber Shandwick and Brodeur Worldwide. He started out in journalism after earning a bachelor's degree in English from Fairfield University in Connecticut.
     Touhill's career also began in journalism when he was editor of the college newspaper at Virginia Wesleyan College where he would earn a degree in mass communications. Touhill says an internship at a boutique PR agency swayed him to pursue that field. He has since worked at the prestigious Martin Agency in Richmond, Va. (think Geico's caveman and gecko campaigns) then Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide in Washington, D.C.
     The PR veterans were on campus for the communication department advisory council's fall meetings, which included roundtable discussions with communication majors, mentor-protege program meetings, and classroom visits.

Keith Lindenburg
Mike Touhill
The advisory council is made up of 45 
professionals from public relations, corporate communications, news and digital media, and other media-related fields.

Lindenburg and Touhill both encouraged students to take advantage of the advisory council's expertise by networking and meeting with them, participating in council events and trips, and being proactive in seeking out their advice and help.

     "Use the advisory council," Touhill said, "It can help you get gainfully employed."
     Both speakers preached the importance of portfolios, saying students have to be able to show potential employers published writing. This can be student newspaper articles, organizational news releases and blog postings. Creative design and promotional materials can be part of the portfolio too, they said.
     Show that you can "flex a lot of different writing muscles," Lindenburg said. He said how social media such as Twitter and personal blogs can highlight "humorous, pithy, to-the-point" writing that can showcase the writer's style, skills and attention to detail. "You can't put things out with errors, you can't constantly make mistakes," he said.
     Touhill also stressed storytelling and content. "Come to me with stuff," he said of the importance of communication job candidates having writing samples.
     My multimedia reporting students are doing news blogs this semester. "Keep up your blogs after graduation," Touhill said. "Write about what interests you."
     Many companies now scour the social media history of job applicants. There are even agencies that specialize in doing this for employers. So it's essential to be smart about social media practices, both men said. Incriminating photographs showing questionable behavior, offhand remarks that may seem innocent can come across as racist, sexist or immature and unprofessional- all negatives that can lead to job candidates being dismissed.
     "There's so much good talent out there, it's so competitive," Lindenburg said. "Social media, that's one thing you can control."
     Touhill added: "The only thing you have in the world is your brand. Don't do anything that will make you look like a knucklehead so we can't hire you. Do it smartly."
     In today's professional world, Linkedin is the No. 1 social media site. Lindenburg advised students to make their Linked in sites as complete as possible because some companies look first at candidates who have 100 percent "profile completeness."  Linkedin shows a bar at the top of each person's home page showing that percentage.
     Both speakers encouraged the communication students to stay in touch with them. CofC communication department leaders have worked hard developing such a prominent advisory council.
     About the advisory council, my final two word suggestion to our students:  USE IT!

I was impressed with Alanna Hamilton who came up to Keith Lindenburg after his talk, shook his hand, introduced herself, thanked him for coming, and chatted for a few minutes with the prominent PR pro.
Ryan Colby also took the initiative for some one-on-one face time with advisory council member Mike Touhill.

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