Posts Tagged ‘English’

Removing the English major’s “scarlet letter”

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Yes, I am an English major and, no, I don’t plan to be a teacher.

I know that most English majors can sympathize with me about how disappointing it is to constantly hear: “So, what can you do with an English major? Basically just teach, right?”

I think teaching is a respectable career – in fact, my older sister is an elementary school teacher – however, it isn’t the only career option for English majors.

While it may seem like we English majors simply sit around reading classic novels and fluffy poetry, we actually study the art of language. In examining literature, we hone our logic skills and sharpen our own writing. We examine not only what authors say, but also why they say it and how they say it.

And, believe it or not, all this nerdy passion for language comes in quite handy in professions that don’t involve classrooms. Public relations is a perfect example. If there is anything I have learned in my six weeks of working at S&A (other than where the light switch is), it’s that language is everything in PR. When you are writing press releases, reports, and blogs everyday, you have to understand language and to be able to use it judiciously. Being an English major predisposes you to the importance of language and trains you to use it more effectively.

Still skeptical? Maybe this will help: Take the book The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

I know, I know…the best I could come up with is a boring, old 19th century book by a guy who didn’t seem to understand how to use a period before a sentence reached a page in length? Most people get through a page and a half before pulling out the Sparknotes.

Despite how archaic The Scarlet Letter may seem, it actually is a great example (and even has some public relations lessons to boot).

The book follows the story of Hester Prynne, a woman living in Boston when the Puritans ran the town. She not only commits adultery, but also gives birth to her lover’s child, leading her to be ostracized by her community. To make matters worse, the village forces her to wear a red – sorry, I mean scarlet – “A” on her chest to brand her as an adulteress.

Although society condemns Hester, Hawthorne presents his tale in a way that challenges his reader to sympathize with her. He does not hide that she is guilty. Instead, he encourages us to understand Hester’s situation and to forgive her. Through his language and his narrative expertise, he shows that Hester is courageous and genuine rather than just a sinner worthy of contempt.

In a roundabout way, Hawthorne acts as Hester’s PR agent (apart from the little fact that she is a fictional character and all). He helps us see what she really is, rather than what society assumes her to be.

By studying Hawthorne’s work, there are parallels to be drawn about understanding your client’s perspective and giving targeted audiences the “view” they need to understand it as well. Hawthorne teaches us that PR is not about lying or covering up someone’s guilt, but about communicating the truth through language.

So, the next time you pick-up The Scarlet Letter, or maybe just the Sparknotes, look out for Hawthorne’s PR skills. You’ll quickly see that even a dusty, outdated book about the Puritans can prepare an English major for much more than just a career in teaching!

First Day at the Internship — Can Someone Help Me Find the Light Switch?

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

[tap tap tap] Is this thing on?

Testing, testing…

Well hello there and welcome to my blog!

I am Erin Carpenter and an English major looking forward to beginning my senior year in the fall. Before that happens, however, I will be doing a summer internship with Starkman & Associates (a business and finance public relations agency in Manhattan) for the next 9 weeks and bringing you along for the journey. In past years, I spent my summers working as an assistant manager of an exotic pet store and camp counselor. This summer, I am abandoning my traditional work routine and pursuing my future career in public relations.

Luckily, I did not have to find housing because our home is within commuting distance from New York City. Unluckily, my house is almost 70 miles from Grand Central. Each morning, I will be taking the 6:13am train into Manhattan in order to arrive at work by 8am. Still, since Holy Cross generously provided me with travel compensation, in addition to the stipend I receive from the Holy Cross Leadership Council of New York, I really can’t complain. Plus, I am telling myself that the 80 minute commute will allow me to catch up on some reading … or a bit more sleep.

My internship started a mere three days ago, but I am already up to my elbows in several projects – and I couldn’t be happier. Due to my late arrival back in the States after my year studying abroad at Oxford, my internship started later than most. To make-up for lost time, I want to dive in headfirst and immerse myself in public relations. I am learning about our clients, proof reading blogs and press releases, and conducting research for one of the company’s founders, Eric Starkman.

If there is one thing I have realized this week, it is that even the simplest things may need qualifying. In business, saying or doing the wrong thing can lead to catastrophic problems, something the folks in the PR profession know too well. Poor word choice in an employee communication can generate morale issues or a loss of confidence in the company’s leadership, a slow response to consumer complaints on twitter can lead to a backlash, and, as a certain CEO of an oil company in the Gulf can attest, poor word choice can make a crisis situation much, much worse.

Rather than risking such a mistake, it is far better to simply ask for guidance when needed.  As that ancient Chinese proverb states: “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask remains a fool forever.” This applies to the big questions as much as the small ones. In fact, a perfect example of this occurred today. As the first one in the office this morning, the majority of the overhead lights were off when I arrived. I searched and searched, but to no avail – the light switch was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, there was a security light on, so I wasn’t totally in the dark. Shortly after I gave up the quest for the light, Jeff and Jim, two of my newfound colleagues here, arrived. And the lights popped on.

To avoid embarrassment, I could have stayed at my desk and pretended that I had not just been sitting in the dark; however, I don’t think that absurd action would have remained unnoticed. Instead, I said “Hello” with a laugh, admitted my defeat in locating the switch, and asked where I could find it. To my defense, the switch was located outside the office. Pheew – so I don’t need to have my contact prescription checked after all!

As I continue with my first few weeks, I am sure this will only be one of many moments when I will realize I have much to learn from S&A. But, I am looking forward to these moments, for everything I learn will help me become part of the S&A team and broaden my knowledge of PR – even if it only involves finding a light switch.