Follow Your Folly

by Christopher Terry, President & Founder of Rhetoric, LLC.
Part 1 of Post-Grad Professionals & Alumni Guest Blog Series

Gen X’ers who hire young people presume you have not actually, well, done much.  Forgive us for that.

If that is not the case, Superstar, then God bless; you can probably skip the rest of this and enjoy your early retirement.

But odds are, you have not written for any sitting governors, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, or placed multiple client stories in Bloomberg, USA Today, the Associated Press or Wired (in the same ways as I have). Many of my Gen X peers and I are a tough, cynical bunch; so even if you think you’ve done a lot, we may have a different sense of your absolute accomplishments.

When PR people are jumping to their second or third job, the good ones will have an incommensurately great body of work to merchandise with their prospective bosses. The aforementioned speech writing experiences and home run media placements are the kinds of work we geezers will be looking for as ways to differentiate the wheat from the chaff. (By the way, if you have any media placements, print them in color and bring them to job interviews; if you don’t, get crackin’.)

So do ask for the biggest, toughest assignments on day one. Better yet, give yourself such an assignment before you even start interviewing. More on this later.

But what if you are like I was, and had little-to-nothing to show to your first potential employer other than school assignments that showed off my bush league writing chops?

I have two words for you. Remember them: Enthusiasm. Moxy.

A 22-year-old typically cannot impress with their body of work. But what everyone can impress with—and some have with occasionally spectacular results—is enthusiasm. In an interview, one simply cannot fake enthusiasm…and by that I mean enthusiasm for the things in their own life that they absolutely love.

Even if you think it has nothing to do with the job you are interviewing for, be sure to talk about the things you are wildly in love with, no matter how weird or off-topic these may seem.  Ideally, you end up doing PR for something you do love. It’s called “Follow Your Folly.”  There’s even an ad that explains what I mean:

New Belgium – Follow Your Folly from Chadwick Shoults on Vimeo.

When you have been working 20 years like some of us, having a young person full of élan vital spouting off about some subculture, music, author, director or weird hobby is refreshing. It gives us hope. You let us know that you can get FIRED UP about something. We want this. We need this where we work. And if the person interviewing you does not “get it” or dig it, guess what? You don’t want to work there.

Trust me; you might have to report to this dial tone of a boss.

This brings us to key concept number two: moxy.

My little brother Bryan, armed only with high school television production experience and an old VHS camera, called the PR people at Lollapalooza for weeks ahead of the show in 1994 until they agreed to let him interview his musical heroes: Beastie Boys, The Verve, The Flaming Lips, A Tribe Called Quest, and a bunch of other bands that got his goat. He was still in high school when he did this. He gave himself a tough assignment–and did that pay off!

Before his senior year of J-School at the University of Missouri, he called the Beastie Boys publicist so many times, showed them his crappy tape from years earlier of his interview with the bands and landed an internship. At one point, he even jumped on stage and freestyled with Coolio.

He got his first job with ESPN covering the World Cup through “borderline harassment” by calling the company several times a week. Then he went to MTV and took Paris Hilton to Mexico as a producer for Spring Break. Last year, Bryan got a new job. Oh yeah, he knew no one in the industry when he started.

The only reason I got my first job was because I loved cars, admittedly a big plus in Detroit. But I had zero PR experience.

I was a political science and communications major. One of my passions was 18th and 19th century German philosophy. I even named my now-fallow blog after my favorite writer. But what does that have to do with automotive PR?

The answer is: whatever you can imagine. Have the courage to imagine the things many people just can’t. I was told this particular piece couldn’t be done.  I love hearing this. You should too.

Random final thought: never say, “I love PR because I’m good with people.”

It is like saying, “I love going to the bar because I think I’m hot.” It might be true but you just can’t say it.



0c9622f.jpgChristopher Terry is the president and founder of Rhetoric LLC.  He was previously Senior Vice President and global lead of the Automotive Practice for Weber Shandwick, the world’s second largest PR firm.  He loves British rock, archtop Gibsons, Japanese food, and the history of small arm development, among other things.  Chris followed his folly once by moving to Spain after flunking Spanish twice at the University of Michigan.                                                                                         

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