Erin Carpenter '11

Cause I’m leaving on jet plane,
Don’t know when I’ll be back again…

Okay, so I didn’t actually leave on a jet plane — but I did go on a journey. I packed up my car yesterday and headed back to Holy Cross. And, that means this summer, and my internship, are at an end: my nine weeks at S&A have flown by and, here I am writing my last blog.

As I walked to Crumbs during my lunch break – yes, I decided to commemorate my final day at S&A with a deliciously oversized Dulce de Leche cupcake – I began thinking that the best way to finish off my summer blog would be to pass along advice to all of you who will be interning in the city next summer.

So, without further ado, I present my top advice for future NYC interns:

5. Start practicing sleeping on trains.
I now know that sleeping on a train is an art form. There are some people who simply close their eyes and fall peacefully into a light slumber. Then there are the less graceful sleepers who end up with their face pressed on the window, mouth open, and a steady drool puddle gathering on their shoulder. Fortunately, I don’t fall entirely into that latter group (I’ll cop to the window bit but take the Fifth on the drool part). Ironically, at the beginning of the summer, I didn’t think I would ever be able to sleep during the morning commute. After a few weeks of getting up at 5:15am, however, I quickly adapted to falling asleep, but I still haven’t mastered the appearance. So, get a jump start on mastering your sleep technique if you have a chance.

4. Read the paper every day.
One of the best ways to prepare for any internship is to read a newspaper every day and stay on top of current events. Whether you prefer the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or some other major news source, reading the paper will keep you informed and allow you to form your own opinions of what’s going on in the world. Plus, you might just get the inside scoop on a new store, like Pop Tarts World, that is opening right down the street!

3. Be adventurous!
When you are in New York City, the possibilities are endless. So, go out there are try new things!
Just yesterday, Jeff took me to the Shake Shack. After walking over 15 blocks and waiting in line for 40 minutes, I got to taste the legendary Shack Stack burger, fries, and chocolate shake (don’t worry, the walk back helped me recover from the meal). Trust me, the meal was definitely worth the wait. Plus, the Shake Shack adventure will go down as one of my most memorable S&A moments.

2. When you think you are done with a task, take a five minute break and look over your work again.
While your work will never be completely perfect, make sure you perform each task thoroughly. In the PR world, all of your research – and resulting conclusions — can be changed by one article or piece of information. Sure, sometimes hours of research can be painful, especially when you keep finding dead ends. Still, that annoyance is nothing compared to the consequences of misreporting information or looking lazy. So, make sure that you put 100% into each project. Your work ethic will be noticed and will reflect on how you as an individual.

1. Voice you opinions and your ideas.
If you have a good idea or an opinion you feel could be useful, share it! Your employer selected you because they noticed something interesting about you and because they felt that you would be the best fit for the position. With that in mind, be confident that your opinion will be valued. By expressing my opinions and being open with everyone at S&A, I felt like a member of the team. Don’t limit yourself by being too timid to share your ideas. Remember, you are not “just an intern” – unless you act like you are.

So, there you have it. I have had a wonderful summer. I have learned a lot and I cannot express how grateful I am for the opportunities given to me by Starkman & Associates, the Summer Internship Program, and the Leadership Council of New York.

Good luck to all the 2011 interns!

When I first started this internship at S&A, I thought I’d spend my days learning solely about press releases and media contacts. Boy, was I wrong.
While it’s certainly true that I know a heck of a lot more about public relations today versus eight weeks ago, I am astounded by how much I’ve also learned about Wall Street, healthcare, law, and philanthropy, among other industries and sectors. While I spent one week mastering medical jargon and looking at healthcare studies, I spent another week peeling through court cases and laws. I have practiced being an investigator, a writer, and an editor. I’ve done all these things while leading you all to think that I was just doing PR.
Who knew that to be good at public relations you needed to know so much about every other business? This internship has been a real eye-opener, and I mean that in a good way.
I bet you’re also wondering how I could possibly adapt to all these areas in a few short weeks. Well, sorry to disappoint, but if you’re thinking that I might be superhero disguised as an intern, you’re wrong. I wish that I possessed a secret power for being the human chameleon of professions, but I don’t.
I have always enjoyed throwing myself into new topics. On a whim while at Oxford, I elected to take a course on Renaissance Art just for the fun of it, even though I knew almost nothing about the Italian Renaissance. (Fortunately, it turned out to be a fascinating course!) As I learned this summer, that “try anything” spirit is quite helpful in the workplace.
I thank Holy Cross and my liberal arts background for my ability to adapt easily to new situations and my general zeal to learn new things. Congratulations Mom and Dad, you can sleep easy at night knowing your tuition money is paying off already!
Over the past three years, Holy Cross repeatedly challenged me to get my feet wet. In addition to taking classes for my English major, like every other Holy Cross student, I had to step outside my comfort zone and take classes in other core areas, such as religion, art, science and math. Ancient and Medieval Hinduism, anyone? Yep, I took that one (and highly recommend it!).
Although some of these classes may seem off-topic for an English major, they actually enhanced my understanding of literature while broadening my general knowledge. One day we discussed the same topic of linguistic determinism in my Honors linguistics course that we discussed in my 20th Century British Literature course. Recognizing these connections helps me easily adapt to a new area of study.
By learning through a system that forces you to branch out, I acquired the skills that would help me adapt easily to reading medical studies and court cases. Instead of turning into a deer in the headlights when I am drafted onto a new project, I am confident that, if history is an indication, I will eventually figure it out.

So, there you have it, I have spent my summer traveling through many careers in true Holy Cross style. I have played lawyer, doctor, and philanthropist (in the broadest sense of those words) while simultaneously being a PR agent.
And you thought I was just a PR intern…

One of the most challenging aspects of my internship has nothing to do with work. Rather, it’s where to go for lunch. (Being based in midtown Manhattan certainly has its advantages!)

For instance, do you know what Pop-Tarts Sushi tastes like?

Yes, yes – I did say “Pop-Tarts Sushi.”

Don’t worry, I am not talking about some horrible concoction made with raw fish and breakfast pastry. Now, that really would be gross.

What I am actually talking about is the most popular menu item at Kellogg’s newest promo tool, Pop-Tarts World. Chefs at the store, which opened in Times Square on Tuesday, make this treat by chopping up three types of Pop-Tarts and rolling them up inside a Fruit Roll-Up. Then all they do is cut the roll into pieces and, Voila! Pop-Tarts Sushi!

Dedicating an entire store to one breakfast pastry might seem like a bit much, but, from a PR standpoint, it’s pretty smart thinking. Kellogg’s has not only gotten a ton of press for the opening, but also it has earned a place next to the other well-known Time Square sweet stops, such as the M&Ms World and Hershey’s.

After two days of reading articles about the launch of Pop-Tarts World and listening to people here talk about it, my curiosity got the better of me. I headed down there one lunch-period, bring back a few menu items for my colleagues. In addition to Pop-Tarts Sushi, there was “Ants on a Log,” which is essentially celery with peanut butter and crushed Wild Grape Pop-Tarts on top.

Sooo…was the Pop-Tarts Sushi worth the buzz it was getting?

Well, it’s not terrible (although Jeff might disagree; he couldn’t stand the taste for more than five seconds before getting rid of it), but it’s not the best thing I’ve ever tasted. It tastes as you might imagine: a really sweet chewiness mixed with bits of pastry. (I’d recommend “Ants on a Log” before the roll-up.)

Honestly, the best part of my adventure was being able to head out into the city and try something new on a whim.

Over the past seven weeks, I have spent almost every lunch-break exploring mid-town Manhattan and learning to appreciate everything that this city has to offer. Being in the area of Grand Central, Times Square, and the Empire State Building, you can understand just how many options I have around me. If I want to walk around Bryant Park or visit the New York Public Library, I only have to walk a few blocks and I’m there.

I’m pretty sure that if I ate at a different place everyday (which is not something my bank account would like very much), I wouldn’t get through more than a few blocks of eateries before the end of my internship.

Beyond the varying food choices, New York offers numerous possibilities for having a great summer and gaining experience as an intern, especially as a PR intern.

I know that many students feel hesitant about applying for an internship that is located in a large city – honestly, if I hadn’t lived abroad for a year, I might feel a bit hesitant myself – but, there is something about New York that guarantees you will have an amazing experience.There is an energy throughout New York that you can’t find anywhere else. Everywhere you look, things are happening – just last week, I stumbled across Russell Brand filming the remake of the classic 1980s movie Arthur.

But, it is more than seeing movie stars and eating Pop-Tarts. When Wall Street and Times Square are only a few blocks away, you feel connected to the things you are reading about in the news paper each morning. You feel involved in the work you are producing and that you are really there for your clients when they need you.

In the end, working in the city is like trying Pop-Tarts Sushi: it might be amazing, it might be terrible, but no matter what, it will be an unforgettable experience.

And, I might be biased, but I’m sure that you will find it to be a pretty amazing experience.

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!

Have you ever watched Hell’s Kitchen?

If you have, you know the juicy, dramatic scene that occurs in every episode: As the chefs cook furiously, Chef Gordon Ramsey realizes the chicken is still raw on the inside and begins screaming in his British accent. The cooks cower in fear.

Various bleeped-out curses ensue and, a few moments later, the under-cooked chicken-maker is crying in a closet about how he or she “can’t take this kind of pressure anymore.”

All of this makes for wonderfully addicting television. But, does it make for good reality?

In my opinion, mutual respect within a work place tends to be much more effective than intimidation and degradation.

Earlier this week, S&A hosted a Summer gathering with some friends of the firm on our terrace. Pera, a Mediterranean restaurant located near Grand Central Station was brought in to cater the event. A number of folks here are big fans of the restaurant, which is located just across the street.

As an avid Hell’s Kitchen fan, I was intrigued watching executive chef Jason Avery manage his brigade. Apparently, referring to your team as lazy donkeys the way Chef Ramsey does is not entirely standard operating procedure.

Rather than treating his employees as inferiors, Jason treats them as equals. While delegating jobs, he helps set up tables and put out food. When we entered “crunch time” and his orders became firmer, his employees responded quickly and efficiently – not from fear, but from what appeared to be respect for Jason and a desire to produce top quality service. In the business world, I think this is what they mean by having “engaged employees.”

Throughout the evening, Jason and his employees were cheerful and relaxed, which promoted a positive mood with the guests and helped make the night successful.

S&A office similarly puts mutual respect and professionalism above all else. Beyond treating people kindly and with dignity, we allow everyone to politely voice their opinions without fear of embarrassment or reprisal – regardless of whether or not we agree with them. Whether you are new to the business, like me, or an experienced associate, everyone feels comfortable offering ideas during brainstorming sessions. Even Eric’s writing undergoes careful scrutiny before being finalized!

We may vary greatly in levels of experience, but we each have important ideas to contribute. While the PR veterans provide wisdom and an understanding of how the business works, the newbies can offer fresh insight and new perspectives.

Even though I am an intern, I am treated as a full member of the S&A team – no exaggeration.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to Eric about my addiction to coffee and joked, “I think you guys should rent a Keurig for the summer. I would be happy to test one out for you!”
Instead of laughing or telling me to “keep dreaming,” Eric simply asked, “Do you really want a Keurig? Do you think it would be good for the office?”

(For those non-coffee addicts who are wondering what I am talking about, a Keurig is a coffee maker that brews a single cup of coffee in about 60 seconds. It is a coffee-lover’s dream-come-true.)

After I explained how efficient and useful a Keurig would be for the office, we had one by the end of the day!

Now, every cup (or several cups) of delicious coffee I drink at work each day reminds me that I work in an environment of mutual respect. Sorry to break it to you guys, but it looks like there won’t be any tears or “I can’t take it anymore”’s coming from this blog any time soon. I guess you’ll just have to keep tuning into Hell’s Kitchen for that drama.

Let’s go back in time for a moment.

It’s 1973 and my uncle just started his first job. His office is in New York and he takes the train early every morning. Before boarding the train, he picks up his copy of the Wall Street Journal from the newsstand outside the train station. He makes polite conversation with the people around him on the platform, but once on the train, he quickly falls asleep until the train makes its final stop at Grand Central Station. Until he arrives at work, he remains rather cut off from people he knows.

Now let’s move forward a few decades to the year 2010.

Like my uncle, I make the daily train commute into New York for my first job. That’s pretty much where the similarities end. A large coffee is the only thing I purchase before boarding the train. As soon as I sit, I open up my Kindle, download the Wall Street Journal, turn on my iPod, and check my phone for messages. When I get to work, I check two sets of e-mail and begin to look up our clients in the news.
As much as I hate to say it, the differences in these routines prove how much more reliant I am on technology than my uncle was over thirty years ago.  Even when it is not necessary– let’s face it, who else is going to be awake and texting my phone at 6am? – I feel compelled to stay connected to the world.
But I am not the only technology-addicted individual out there.
Although Eric and Jeff still enjoy getting their fingers ink-smudged by old-fashioned hard copies of the day’s newspapers, newspapers seem to be going extinct on the train. Everyone has iPads, Kindles, Nooks, or whatever e-reader you can think of.
Most of my friends have Blackberrys or iPhones that are continuously connected to the Internet. I rarely sit through a dinner or coffee date without one of my friends checking Facebook, Twitter, or their e-mail.  And, I can’t even fathom how many hours of my life I allowed to dribble away as I watched You Tube videos.
And while its rather obvious to me how technology has impacted the way we communicate as individuals, it wasn’t until I started working here that I gave much thought to how much of a challenge these new innovations present for companies.
By the time the morning paper releases new news, it has already become old news to the rest of us. Through Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, the Internet gives everyone a voice with which to report and broadly offer their own interpretation of events, even as they unfold.

This also hits on issues of control. Once upon a time, companies – and by extension their PR functions – had tighter control on their reputations by virtue of the fact that they possessed the loudest voice with which to steer what was said about them and when – and by who. The Internet has become the great leveler, giving the individual their own public pulpit from which to offer their on insights. For instance, I am pretty sure we all heard about YouTube video of the Domino’s employees tampering with food that went viral rather quickly. Domino’s corporate office was beaten up a bit by the trade press for being slow out of the gate in responding to that spiraling crisis, which damaged their reputation.
So, what’s a company to do?
To be honest, there isn’t a simple solution. For now, PR agencies are doing the only thing they can do: treat the Internet as a friend, not a foe.

One of my jobs at S&A is to help our clients stay on top of the news and issues that are of interest to their business – and that means research to find out what’s being written and said in the media. Honestly, I can’t imagine how PR people used to do it before the Internet came around!

To ensure my morning research remains thorough, I use two different databases to find news articles related to our clients and their competitors. In addition, I receive instant e-mail notifications any time a blog, news article, or website mentions one of our clients or a subject related to them. For instance, I get at least ten e-mails each day updating me about what’s happening in the world of municipal bonds. 
But we don’t just leverage the Internet after the news is out. We rely on it to help us understand what’s happening in our client’s markets and industries so we can counsel them on how to have their own say in what the PR biz calls the online “conversation.” Every press release, blog, or report requires hours of research before a client or the public can see it.
Last week, I drafted writing my first press release. While one of my colleagues worked on the ‘official’ version of the press release that would go to the client, I worked in parallel on the sidelines, drafting my own version to get some first-hand practice at developing a press release.
I turned directly to the Internet. I spent about a week researching our client and the software, looking up investment terms on online dictionaries, and reading previous press releases. I constantly checked and re-checked sources and facts to ensure the accuracy of my work.
After two more days of writing, I finally produced my first press release. (Granted, my collegue turned his draft around in a few hours!)
I won’t lie, it wasn’t perfect – in fact, when Jeff called me in to his office to review my press release, it was covered in red pen marks. Keeping in mind that press releases rarely are perfect within the first draft, I take each critique as something to improve on next time – which will begin with my second, practice press release that I will write tomorrow.
When I get on the morning train with my bundle of electronics, I will start thinking of how I will use the Internet to research my new practice release and begin preparing myself for another day in the new generation of PR.

When I first decided that I wanted to pursue a career in public relations while in high school, by best friend turned to me and said, “Oh, so you want to lie to save someone else’s skin for a living?”

Shocked at his negative reaction, I replied, “No, of course not.”

My friend simply sighed and rolled his eyes. “Well that’s all PR is, you know – just lying to the public day-in and day-out to try to cover-up some company’s corrupt secrets.”

That’s certainly not the reputation the leaders of the PR field might want, but it’s hard to fault my friend for only knowing that unfortunate side of business. After all, the papers are filled on a daily basis with official spokespeople scrambling to offer a half-hearted explanation after their employer got caught doing something wrong or worse, getting caught in a lie when they tried to cover up some wrong-doing.

It’s too bad these “bad apples” didn’t read the recent Forbes article on crisis communications by Eric Starkman, the president of S&A, where he warned that, “When you use spin to minimize a crisis, the crisis almost always spins right out of control.”

I may only be starting my third week at S&A, but my experience thus far has proven that S&A practices what they preach. They encourage creativity and being able to communicate the truth in the most effective way possible. For S&A, PR should be challenging: when your client faces difficulties, it is your duty to maintain a credible voice.

Last week, Eric said to me, “Good PR is a thinking business.” This is the kind of PR I want to pursue and I am grateful that my first PR experience gets to be with a firm who upholds the ideals I respect.

More importantly, I cannot wait to revisit the issue with that friend of mine now that I have first-hand knowledge. Until then, maybe I’ll send him a copy of Eric’s article in Forbes.

[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.