Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Farewell Marist! Hello Watson!

To everything there is a season…

After 17 years at Marist College, I start a new chapter in my life next month as director of corporate giving at Watson Pharmaceuticals. While it will be very difficult to say goodbye to friends, colleagues and students at Marist, this is a tremendous opportunity for me and I look forward to working for an incredible company and with people who are the best in the field.

I’ll let my boss, Marist President Dennis Murray, explain the particulars via his memo to the Marist community this morning:



Tim Massie, who has served as Marist's Chief Public Affairs Officer for the past 17 years, has been offered and has accepted a senior position at Watson Pharmaceuticals, where he will oversee their global philanthropy program.  Watson Pharmaceuticals is a leading integrated global pharmaceutical company with 6,000 employees engaged in the development, manufacturing, marketing, sale, and distribution of generic, brand, and biologic pharmaceutical products.  It is among the top five pharmaceutical companies in the U.S., based on total prescriptions, and it generated $3.57 billion in net revenues in 2010.  In his duties as Director of Corporate Giving, Tim will be responsible for developing and implementing Watson's Global Corporate Giving Program.  He will establish corporate giving guidelines, promote corporate support of local charitable organizations, and promote employee involvement and volunteerism.

Tim's wealth of experience prepares him well for this role.  In the time he has served as Chief Public Affairs Officer, Tim has been an invaluable link to both the media and the Dutchess County community.  He has led the effort to raise the College's national profile and reputation through successful campaigns integrating media exposure, awards programs, community leadership, and close relationships with business and elected officials.

One of the great highlights of Tim's tenure at Marist was his work on the 1995 summit between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in Hyde Park, one of many high-profile political visits he has coordinated.  Tim has also been a pioneer in the use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to heighten Marist's national exposure.  In addition, his commitment to serving the community and others has been second to none.  He serves or has served on nearly 50 nonprofit boards, including the Dyson Foundation, St. Francis Hospital, the Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation, the City of Poughkeepsie Board of Education, and the St. Simeon Foundation.

Tim is a graduate of Fordham University and Dutchess Community College, where he was elected to the Alumni Hall of Fame in 2006.  He has received numerous awards for his community leadership, most recently from the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley.  Tim has also been a dedicated teacher and mentor to countless students interested in public relations and media relations.  He has always made it a point to involve Marist students in annual events like the FDR Library's Four Freedoms Awards and the Val-Kill Awards, as well as special occasions like the dedication of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in 1997, the canonization of St. Marcellin Champagnat in 1999, the Democratic Leadership Council's meeting at the College in 2000, and private tours of the Sistine Chapel and Vatican. Students have told us that these unique opportunities remain as fond memories long after graduation.  Finally, Tim has led some of our most popular study-abroad trips to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece, Germany, and Turkey.  He truly personifies the Marist Brothers' motto of doing good quietly.

Tim will start his duties at Watson in early January, and we'll look forward to recognizing his tremendous service to Marist after he gets settled.  He has been an outstanding colleague and an excellent representative of both the College and our ideals.  Tim's energy and talents will be sorely missed.  Please join me in thanking him for all he has done for Marist and congratulating him on this exceptional professional opportunity.

Dennis J. Murray
Marist College

Sunday, November 6, 2011

How (Not) to Communicate During a Crisis

Eight days ago, a snowstorm wreaked havoc on a wide swath of the Northeast. It reminded anyone in the Hudson Valley over age 35 of the infamous Snowleaf storm of October 4, 1987.  During this recent storm, more than 1.5 million people lost power. More than 140,000 customers (that means billing accounts, so the people affected are more than double that number) in Connecticut still have no electricity.  Heavy, wet snow on trees still leaf-laden led to the crack and snap of limbs falling, bringing power lines down with them.

It was because of Snowleaf that I got my job at Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation 24 years ago. But that's not the purpose of this post.  Rather, I want to reflect on the changing communication landscape and how it impacts the ability to keep people informed during a time of crisis.

About ten days ago, Clear Channel, the mega-owner of many radio stations across the U.S., laid off its last newsperson in the 14-station cluster it controls in Poughkeepsie and the Hudson Valley.  They also let go other on-air staff, some of whom had been at the stations for up to 20 years. Cumulus, which owns another 11 regional radio stations, had already decimated its news staff. That leaves four stations run by Pamal Broadcasting as having the only newsperson on air.  There are a couple of independents, Poughkeepsie's WHVW on AM (which has fewer listeners than some college radio stations) and Woodstock's WDST on FM (whose Web site is down as I write this).

Radio conglomerates have shirked their responsibility to serve their local public. These mega-companies will reduce costs and cut staffs until, in Big Brother fashion, one location will feed programming throughout the country with nothing to differentiate Poughkeepsie from Portland from Paducah. We're pretty much already there, and a toothless FCC that has allowed ownership consolidation has forgotten broadcasters' responsibility to serve in the public's interest.

During one particular devastating storm about 20 years ago, I went on the air on WKIP for hours with Mary Kaye Dolan and Joe Ryan to take calls from customers who had trouble getting through to Central Hudson's overrun phone lines.  It was an opportunity to communicate directly with customers to find out when their power may be restored.  It's a format used now by the Poughkeepsie Journal, which is fine as long as you have an Internet connection and either electricity or some battery life left in your laptop.  It is another sign of how newspapers have become multimedia news outlets, taking over from radio and in some cases TV, which may have local news, but it may be a recorded loop that runs the same broadcast for a few hours-in-a-row.

Many local officials still have not learned that during an emergency, you need to stop using Web sites for campaigning and use them for governing.  Part of governing is communicating.  No one does that better than Newark Mayor Cory Booker (@CoryBooker).  He runs a city of more than 270,000 people, but makes the effort to speak directly to his constituents to learn where trees are down, streets that need to be plowed, or other problems.  It's no wonder he has more than 1.1 million Twitter followers.

Compare that with our little city of Poughkeepsie, population 32,000.  During the storm and an earlier emergency when the city's southside lost water because of a large main break, there was no real effort to let people know what was going on.  No tweets from the city's account, and the latest news update on the city's Web site was a change in the meeting date of the city's zoning board of appeals.  One update was finally placed online later in the day on October 30, to announce a warming center being set up at the Salvation Army.

When the water main broke in September, only one city official, Councilman Paul (Pee Wee) Herman, gave a timely update on the cause of the break via his Facebook page.  Eventually, the city's Web page began providing substantive information.

As I mentioned in my post about Hurricane Irene, you have to use the social media available -- Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, your home page -- to keep people informed and to quash rumors.  Cory Booker gets it. Other elected and appointed officials at all levels should follow his lead.

One last thing...for the first time in more than 34 years (with the exception of the two years I lived in Rome), I will not be providing election results and commentary on either radio or TV.  The last several years I was a commentator (on a volunteer basis, not for pay) for Clear Channel, at the request of the news director (of a one-person news shop), who was among those laid off ten days ago.  I'm such a newsaholic that I can recall election results dating back to the early 1970s, but this year, I'll be home.  At least my husband will be happy about that.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Listening to the Stars Will Get You a Job

Last night, two of the best sports communicators in the business gave a down-to-earth lesson in finding a job and enjoying what you do. 

My long-time friend Mike Breen was gracious to accept an invitation to come to Marist to inaugurate the college's new Center for Sports Communication.  Mike and I both went to Fordham, though I was three years ahead of him and did not meet Mike until he joined WEOK/WPDH as a news reporter after his graduation in 1983.  I had gotten out of the radio news business and was the assistant to the chairman of the Dutchess County Legislature, which meant Mike and I had the "hack" and "flack" roles.  I truly detest those terms, but use them here to show how false they are.

I saw in Mike a desire to learn, be the best, set goals, achieve them, and be helpful to others.  We had incredible fun working together in our separate roles, and we spent a lot of time hanging out together outside of work, becoming very close friends.

What impresses me now about Mike is that he is, without a doubt, the most successful and best known sports broadcaster in America today, yet he remains truly humble, giving of his time and talent to young men and women who want to move into any area of the sports comm world, in front of the camera or in the studio.  What was supposed to be a 90-minute seminar on Mike's career and tips for success turned into a Q & A session followed by a meet and greet with 200 Marist students that took us from 7 until 11 p.m.

Mike was introduced and joined by Marist alumnus Ian O'Connor, one of the best sports columnists and authors around.  Between the two of them, they provided Marist students insight into leveraging their talents and connections to get them to where they want to be. They reiterated what I tell my class, but it had more meaning coming from two men who are stars (though they would both dislike being called that).

Here are some of their tips:

Be passionate about your work. "You have to love going to work every day; follow where your heart leads you." You can't value your success by salary alone.  Discover your passion and pursue it.

Excel as a writer, because there aren't a lot of good ones out there. When Mike was asked by one student what classes he should take since he has some spots to fill in his schedule, Mike quickly responded, "English." Take as many English courses you can and write, write, write.  the more often you do it, the better you get at it. The same is true for on-air delivery. The more you find yourself behind the microphone or in front of the camera, the more comfortable you will feel and the more conversational you will be in delivery. Ian added that you need to read great writing to know how to write well, so read, read, read.

Gain as much experience as possible through internships.  As Mike said about Marist, "You guys have something really special here." Marist offers incredible internships, particularly in communication. If you don't take advantage of those opportunities, you will be behind the competition when it comes time to look for a job.

Network and take advantage of connections. Mike will give a closer look to a résumé from a graduate of Fordham because it's his alma mater, or Marist because of his close affiliation with the Home of the Red Foxes. He got his start in TV as an analyst alongside the great play-by-play man Dean Darling, broadcasting Marist men's basketball games in the mid-1980s during the Rik Smits era, and he holds a special place for Marist in his heart. Mike got his job at WEOK/WPDH because his then-girlfriend's mother was having lunch with the mother of the station's news director. It's not even six degrees of separation. It could be just one or two.

Be at your best every day on your job. Mike sometimes broadcasts games five nights in a row. He could be on MSG calling a Knicks-Celtics game one night, a Lakers-Heat game the next night on ABC, then be on ESPN for a Timberwolves-Raptors game the following night. He has to be "on" for each one because while it may be three in a row for him, a fan may only be watching one and deserves the best play-by-play and analysis.

Ian and Mike told some great behind-the-scenes stories, which I'll save for those who were in attendance.  When you can keep students in their seats for two-hours past the scheduled time of an event, you know you've captured your audience, and judging by the tweets during and after their talks, both men hit it out of the park. (I know, it's a baseball metaphor, not basketball.)

I also appreciated Mike's comment to Ian that "Marist is one of the hottest schools in the country." It's nice to have that third-party affirmation, even if it is from a close friend with perhaps just a little bit of bias.

One last thing...apologies for not posting for more than a month. This has been my busiest semester in almost 17 years at Marist. There are many things I've wanted to "say," but trying to eke out some time when I'm not attending meetings and events on- and off-campus, talking with students, or writing news releases and pitches has been nearly impossible.  Last night's seminar was so good and the messages so valid and valuable, I had to break the "cone of silence" and put them here. Congratulations to Dr. Keith Strudler, chair of the communication department at Marist, for putting together a great seminar for our students and for being the driving force behind the development of one of the top sports communications programs at any college or university in the country.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Communicating Irene's Wrath

Hurricane Irene roared through our beautiful Hudson Valley and Catskills and left a deluge of rain and a trail of destruction among the worst I have seen from any storm during my lifetime.  Some news outlets and individuals thought the event was over-hyped by the media.  Try telling that to my neighbors who spent hours pumping water out of their garage and basement, or the folks in downtown Poughkeepsie whose streets are still closed due to flooding.  My heart also goes out to the people in beautiful little villages like Windham and Margaretville, nice Sunday drives from Poughkeepsie, that have been nearly destroyed by cascading rapids and the washing away of homes and bridges.

Marist College also got hit.  We have one of the most scenic campuses in America, right along the eastern shore of the mighty Hudson.  Today it is the muddy Hudson due to all the runoff from the Fallkill Creek and storm sewer systems from municipalities along its length.  President Dennis Murray issued a wrap-up of the work done over the past couple of days in a memo to the college community today.

Over the past five days, I've posted more than 100 tweets, first about preparation plans for students moving back to Marist, then the storm's impact on our college and region, and finally, on its aftermath.  I know I tweet a lot, and probably lose some followers because of it (mostly spammers and bots, I hope), but during a crisis, social media is invaluable in keeping people informed and squelching rumors.

What kind of rumors?  Someone, whom I'm not even sure is currently a Marist student, tweeted that there was a partial collapse of Marist's Lowell Thomas Communications Center and put in other alarmist drama to make it sound like the campus was a disaster area.  Because I am constantly online, I saw that erroneous tweet, and a retweeting of the false info by someone I know is a Marist student, and took them to task publicly over their misinformation.  The student apologized.  The person who started the rumor, probably just to get attention for herself, did not respond but knew I was watching and switched to another topic.  Her tweets, btw, consist mostly of dropping the f-bomb.

Thanks to my friends and colleagues Melissa Egan and Cody Rotwein in Marist's Web Services department, we were able to place updates on the Marist homepage 10 times.  There were more frequent updates on the Marist Facebook page, and of course, on twitter.  Some of the updates were within minutes of each other, such as when there were changes in the estimate of when a repair of a Central Hudson Gas & Electric substation off-campus would restore power to Marist and the surrounding neighborhood.  An original estimate of two hours was thought to be too soon because of complications with the repair, so I wrote that it could take another three hours.  Excuse the pun, but I didn't want to leave students, parents and Marist staff in the dark.  Fortunately, about five minutes after that Facebook posting and tweet, lights came back on.  I'm still glad I sent out the other information because, as in any type of disaster preparedness, we plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Even I need some sleep and can't be online 24/7/365, though it seems like I am.  Fortunately, I have been awake and on various social media sites when I've seen incorrect info posted about Marist.  The strategy to address it is simple: confront it, nip it in the bud, correct it.

People want correct information and they want frequent updates.  More than 15,000 people visited the Marist Web updates from last Thursday through today.  More than 2,000 clicked on the links from Facebook and twitter.  BTW, half of the referrals came from Facebook, making Facebook, in my experience, still the predominant social medium.  Twitter is rightfully credited for the rapid creation of content and serving as a great news aggregator (much better than a site I used years ago -- Newsgator).

One last's nice to get a pat on the back when you work hard and things go well.  Too often, people complain more than they compliment.  I am grateful for the comments made by students, faculty and staff at Marist, parents, alumni, people in the community, fellow PR practitioners and the media on Marist's communications efforts before, during and after the storm.  Many people not directly related to a public relations function are needed to make a communications strategy successful.  I work with incredible colleagues and deeply appreciate their cooperation and support.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Getting Married: A Tale of Two Cities and One Village

At 1:25 p.m. on Sunday, July 24, 2011, my partner of nearly 31 years and I got married.  It turned into a major production, not for the ceremony itself, but because of what Pete and I went through to get married on the first day the Marriage Equality law took effect in New York State.

We didn't want a big ceremony, which we thought to be anticlimactic after three decades together.  We also wanted to commemorate the day that equality became the law of our state (but, unfortunately, not yet of our nation).  To be married that day entailed a trip to Kingston, then back to Poughkeepsie, then back north to Red Hook. Kingston was one of the municipalities in Ulster County (along with Plattekill, Shandaken and Woodstock) that opened its clerk's office on Sunday to issue licenses to same-sex couples, many of whom, like us, have been together for many years.  The City of Poughkeepsie, where I was born and raised and in which Pete and I live, chose to remain closed, a political statement for sure.  The 32-year old mayor of Poughkeepsie was quoted in our local paper as saying that just because same-sex marriages are now lawful, does not mean he has to officiate at them.  BTW, 2011 is a local election year, including mayor.

Arlene Rion and her staff in the Kingston City Clerk's office were warm, welcoming and wonderful.  State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Cahill was on hand to issue waivers of the state's 24-hour waiting rule for marriages.  Not knowing that would be the case, Pete and I made prior arrangements to go before State Supreme Court Justice Christine Sproat in Poughkeepsie to issue that waiver, hence the drive south to the Dutchess County Courthouse.  Chris was also the duty judge for the Supreme Court that weekend and she told us we were the only couple seeking that waiver, which can only be granted by a justice of a "superior court" in New York State.  Waiver granted, we headed north to the Village of Red Hook, where Village and Town Justice Jonah Triebwasser had offered to officiate.  Jonah is also an adjunct professor at Marist College and an actor most known for playing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a true "local boy who made good") on stage and the History Channel.

We were joined by our two beloved "adopted sons," Luke and Stephen, who were the witnesses for our marriage, both having traveled great distances to be there, which meant the world to Pete and me.  Steve timed the ceremony at 27.5 seconds.  Pete and I already considered ourselves married, but we needed to go through the "I Dos" to make it legal.  Our friend, Al Nowak of On Location Studios, took photos.  After brunch at the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck, it was off to Holy Cow, one of the best known ice cream shops in the Hudson Valley.  Pete and I joked decades ago that if we ever could get married, our wedding reception would be at Holy Cow.  If you've never been, you wouldn't understand.  Great soft-serve with prices from a generation ago, they make their profit by volume.

As it turned out, Pete and I were the first same-sex couple to be married in Dutchess County.  In some ways, nothing has changed, yet in other ways, the world has changed. Our relationship is now legally recognized.  We are offered the protections and accept the responsibilities offered to opposite-sex couples.  No one else's marriage was harmed by ours.  The world has not come to an end.  The support we have received from family and friends, including many of my colleagues and my current and former Marist students, has been overwhelming and deeply appreciated. 

Of course, tens of thousands of legally-married gay and lesbian couples will not be truly equal in the eyes of the law until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed.  Until then, America will continue to be the land of separate and unequal.

We do have something many married couples don't have -- two anniversaries: October 25, which this year will mark 31 years together for us, and July 24, a day we will celebrate with all New Yorkers.

One last thing...for same-sex couples who do tie the knot, check out the series, "The Cost of Being Gay:  A look at the financial realities of same-sex partnerships," by Tara Siegel Bernard (@tarasbernard on twitter).  Even the comments section, a part of contemporary newspapers I find extremely crude and distasteful, is good because other experts share their knowledge of the joys and pains of being legally-recognized spouses by your state but not by your federal government.

Friday, July 22, 2011

We Can "Be the Media"

When I went to my first TweetUp a couple of years ago in Westchester County, the speaker was David Mathison, who wrote Be the Media, which details how each of us has the opportunity to communicate directly with audiences known and unknown, without being filtered by traditional forms of radio, television, newspapers and magazines.  I was intrigued by his talk, purchased the book, and have used the phrase "be the media" often in my classes.

When an item is posted on twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, or other social media, we can directly reach our followers, friends, connections or circles.  When a photo of the completed Route 9 pedestrian walkway was posted on Marist's Facebook page, it made 17,555 impressions and generated 155 likes and 37 comments, nearly all of them positive.  The vast majority of the nearly 8,000 people who "like" the Marist page are current students, alumni, prospective students and their families, elected officials, and the college's faculty and staff.  The page reaches those important constituencies directly to engage conversation, foster reminiscences, inform, and persuade. By now, I hope each person reading this blog understands this is how social media is supposed to function.

Let's see how one individual, a talented, young Marist alumnus, became his own "medium" to successfully raise money for a particular project.  In turn, he gave back to his alma mater in a unique way.

Robert Vijay Gupta, graduated from Marist in 2005 at age 16 with a bachelor's degree in biology.  He went on to get his master's degree in music from Yale in 2007.  That year, he became the youngest violinist (at age 19) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Those in the music industry who do not want to be tied to a particular label fund their own projects through social media. I learned through a tweet from Robert that he was doing this for a CD of recordings, including one of his own compositions, that he will play on a 1716 Stradavarius violin:

guptaviolin87 so many thanks to everyone that's contributed to my @kickstarter album so far - only 5% to go!

Kickstarter calls itself "the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world."

I promoted this on twitter and Marist's Facebook page.  Among those who read the Facebook posting was Marist President Dennis Murray, who later got an email from Robert detailing the project.  President Murray sent a contribution.  Robert went over his $20,000 goal more than a week before his deadline, raising nearly $22,000 from 216 backers.  I am not claiming credit for that and it would be difficult for me to prove any donations came from Marist's social media efforts on Robert's behalf, but I do know that the Facebook posting alone made 6,709 impressions and 11 people "liked" it.  As a community, Marist is very proud of Robert's accomplishments and I was happy to publicize his efforts.  As a thank you to President Murray and Marist, Robert played a selection from the CD at a Marist Welcome Reception for incoming members of the Class of 2015 on July 20, in Santa Monica, California.

Robert had fun with his fundraising.  His incentives to donors ranged from two hi-res mp3s for a $5 donation to this premium for a donation of $10,000 or more: "A live 90-minute recital in Los Angeles or New York, and...I'll cook you dinner! My Mom's recipe for the *best* lamb curry you've ever tasted" (plus all of the items mentioned for lower levels of donations).  While Robert did not get a $10,000 backer, he got two people to donate $2,500.  He is now providing updates on the strenuous recording process, keeping his supporters engaged throughout the process.  Bravissimo, Robert!

THAT is the power of social media.

One last thing...While I would have enjoyed Robert's private concert for incoming Marist freshmen and their families, and alumni who attended the reception in California, I was at another social media event in Boston on July 21.  It was the first Marist Boston TweetUp, organized by 2004 Marist alumna Liz Swenton (@lizswenton on twitter), who is one of three Marist alumnae working at March Communications in Boston. Fifteen alumni and a Marist senior, Marissa DeAngelis (@MSDe526), about whom I've written in the past, attended.  Three drove up from Rhode Island one drove in from Connecticut.  It was a mixer at Back Bay Social Club (@BackBaySocial), with dinner, the exchange of business cards, the renewal of long-standing friendships and the forming of new ones.  These were public relations and journalism majors, most of whom were my students.  It gave me a chance to talk about developments at Marist and get updates on their careers.  One attendee found she was interviewing at the company of another attendee, an opportune contact.  Remember my post on networking?  It works.  We all enjoyed ourselves and I left with a tremendous sense of pride in these Marist grads.  I look forward to similar TweetUps in other cities in the weeks and months ahead.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tweeting Yourself Toward Employment

I'm grateful to Jenny Zou on twitter) of the Chronicle of Higher Education for her very kind article about my efforts to help my students and other Marist grads find jobs via social media, specifically twitter.  I will not rehash what Jenny wrote. You can read Jenny's post in a popular Chronicle blog called WiredCampus.

What I want to discuss here is how this piece came about because it's a lesson in media relations that in itself made news recently because of the issue of "access."  First, let me tell you how this article appeared, then I'll mention the controversy surrounding a well-known freelancer for the New York Times and offer a few of my own thoughts.  I would appreciate your feedback on this, too, because it is an issue I will discuss with my class next semester.

For 14 of the last 18 years I have attended the College Media Relations Conference, initially started by a gentleman named Art Ciervo, picked up by Keith Moore, and now run by the Council of Independent Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.  I've had the privilege of speaking at this conference on social media, and it is a wonderful opportunity to network, learn from my peers, and meet reporters from a wide variety of media who come to talk about their publications, blogs, and TV and radio shows.  My friend Steve Smith (@RedCladLoon), who is the national news editor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, spoke this year on his work in social media and wrote a great blog entry highlighting the various talks at this year's conference.

At one of the sessions, higher ed media reps are given the opportunity to meet with reporters and editors from the Chronicle and InsideHigherEd.  As I was heading into the session featuring about a half dozen Chronicle reporters, I bumped into Chronicle Editor Jeffrey Selingo (@jselingo). I have much respect for Jeff and appreciated his comments on my social media work at a PRSA Counselors to Higher Education conference last April.  I mentioned to Jeff how one of my students, Alyssa Bronander (@ARBro), had sent me a tweet the day before saying she had not yet been hired.  I couldn't understand why because Alyssa is exceedingly bright, knows social media, is an excellent writer, and extremely personable.  So, I tweeted my incredulity with the hashtags #HireThisWoman and #HireArbro.  In less than five minutes, Alyssa got a tweet from another of my former students, Rob Gedarovich (@rgedarov), whom I mentioned in a previous post, asking for a résumé.  Alyssa eventually was hired by Toys R Us and just started this week as te corporation's associate social media manager.

I mentioned this off-the-cuff to Jeff and I honestly did not do it as a pitch.  We were just talking.  However, Jeff heard a good story, introduced me to Jeff Young (@jryoung), a top tech writer at the Chronicle and for the WiredCampus blog.  Jeff assigned the story to Jenny, who spoke with me by phone as I rode Amtrak back to New York.  Alyssa and my outstanding student intern this past year, Jim Urso (@JimUrso) also emailed and spoke to Jenny to round out the story.  An aside...Jim starts soon in the media relations department at Hofstra University.  My thanks to Karla Schuster (@KarlaSchuster) for hiring Jim.  I know it's a cliché but it's true -- my loss truly is Karla's gain.

What's so controversial about this process?  To me, nothing.  However, to the public editor of the New York Times, you would think PR people were like all those corporations that, on their own or via highly-paid lobbyists (many of them former lawmakers) pay for access to politicians in Washington.  I have met Times reporters at the College Media Conference every year, and was able to get a piece in a Times blog last year by pitching a reporter who had just completed his presentation.  

This process of give-and-take between journalist and public relations professional is common practice and ethical.  If you have a good relationship with a reporter -- pitching only those stories that are truly newsworthy, returning phone calls, not limiting yourself to being a "fair weather friend," and maintaining the highest standards of honesty and integrity -- you have a much better chance of getting coverage of your event, product, location, individual, or, in my case, college, than if you do not have a good relationship with that reporter.  That's a PR 101 lesson, not "get(ting) too cozy with the P.R. professionals who strive to influence coverage," as the Times' public editor alleges.  A journalist and a media relations pro must understand their roles.  They are not mutually exclusive.  They are similar -- tell a story that is worth people's time, enlightens them, and in some cases, advocates for the common good (though that last point is always open to interpretation).

In the back of my mind I think there must be another reason for the Times to go after David Pogue (@Pogue).  Maybe, someday, the Times' PR person will tell us what it is.

Your thoughts?

One last thing...I'll let you in on a little secret.  The second commenter at the end of the WiredCampus post, "mahoneypoststar," is Mark Mahoney, who was a student in a broadcast journalism class I taught at Dutchess Community College about 30 years ago.  Mark was a gifted student with a great sense of humor and a way with words.  He started out at my old radio stations, WEOK/WPDH in Poughkeepsie.  Today, he is the editorial page editor of the Post Star in Glens Falls, NY.  Two years ago, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.  To say I'm proud of him is a dramatic understatement.  I offer my thanks to him and to so many of my former students for their words of support and gratitude and retweeting Jenny's WiredCampus post.  Their faith, confidence and affection are deeply appreciated.  The sense of fulfillment I receive from working with and mentoring them is one of the wonderful aspects of my job, particularly at a college like Marist that truly is a community, or as some say, a family.

Friday, June 10, 2011

How the Catholic Hierarchy Can Learn from a Lay Community

As I started to write this, I was sailing from Kuşadasi, Turkey to Patmos, Greece with Fr. Richard LaMorte, the chaplain at Marist College, and students in my religious studies course “In the Footsteps of St. Paul.”  If you read my previous post, you’re probably wondering, “How can you teach theology when your own religion calls you ‘morally disordered’ and fights against equal rights for you?”  A revelation of sorts (ironic, since Patmos is where the evangelist John is believed to have written the Book of Revelation), came from a discussion I had with John Boss, a Marist junior whom I’ve come to know and respect over the past two years, with whom I’ve had many honest conversations.

John asked me about the difference between religion and faith.  It is a great question and while John wanted my answer to help enlighten him, it was he who helped me reflect on who I am and where I am going in my life.  My response centered on my personal belief that faith is a reason to believe in a particular set of principles, religious or not, in my case, based on the teaching of Jesus Christ.  Religion, on the other hand, is humanity’s imperfect attempt to codify those beliefs into a set of rules to live by – the dos and don’ts of a particular religion.  Human attempts at interpreting the Divine Will will always be flawed because we are imperfect beings.  We try to understand the mind of God, but since we are obviously less than God, we cannot reach the perfection of knowledge embodied by a Divinity.  Yet, groups of people try and form bonds based on a particular set of beliefs. 

All through history we have seen abuses of power that occur when a particular religion says it possesses the truth and those outside that sect are “morally deficient,” which is what the Catholic Church says about anyone who is not a Catholic and says of Catholics who don’t walk in lockstep with every single tenet of the Church.  It is that type of thinking by any religion that leads to wars, whether the Crusades, “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, or terrorism in many forms that threatens our world today.

Faith and religion always played a role in my life.  As a matter of fact, I once studied to be a Catholic priest, including two years at the North American College in Vatican City and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, called, respectively, the West Point and the Harvard of the Catholic Church.  That time in the seminary system exposed me to both tremendous good and unquestionable evil by people who claim to represent God.  I worked with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in a soup kitchen and shelter for homeless men, served as an officer and Chaplain Candidate in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, stationed with the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing in Bitburg, Germany, and made friends from throughout the States and from several countries.

I also experienced first-hand the psychological head games played by priests in charge of a man’s “formation,” a nice way of saying brain-washing.  I won’t go into details here, after all, I need to keep some material for my book (which I’ll probably never get to write) – “Looking Through Stained Glass.”  Today’s seminarians preparing for ordination need to remember that the faithful in the pews come from a wide variety of backgrounds – age, experience, education, financial status, culture, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.  I see such rigidity in today’s Catholic seminarians and priests ordained in the last ten years that leads me to believe they will get what they probably want – a smaller, “purer” Church, but in no more sole possession of “the truth” than any other religion.

I am now flying from Rome to New York, at the end of our two-week study abroad course that took us to Greece, Turkey, Rome and Vatican City.  The past two nights, I took the students to Trastevere, my favorite section of Rome, its equivalent of Greenwich Village.  My favorite Church is there – Santa Maria in Trastevere, parts of which date to the 4th Century A.D., or the “Common Era.”  With its luminous mosaics and Cosmatesque floors, it is a beautiful building, but its true beauty comes from the people who use it as their parish church – the Community of Sant’Egidio

The Community of Sant’Egidio began in Rome in 1968, in the period following the Second Vatican Council.  Today, it is a movement of laypeople and has more than 50,000 members dedicated to evangelization and charity in Rome and in more than 70 countries throughout the world.  The Community of Sant’Egidio is a “Church public lay association.”  The different communities, spread throughout the world, share the same spirituality and principles which characterize the way of Sant’Egidio: prayer, communicating the Gospel, solidarity with the poor, ecumenism, and dialogue.  They quote Blessed Pope John XXIII, who called on the Church to be the “Church for all and particularly for the poor.”

Whenever I question my faith or whether I should stay in the Catholic Church, I get these little signs, sort of like Jesus saying “Hey, don’t give up on me! Yeah, I wish my followers really lived the spirit of my teaching, not the law I came to abolish, but they don’t listen to me.  Hang around awhile longer, OK?”  Such was the case the last two nights of our stay in Rome, when I attended Sant’Egidio’s Evening Prayer.  Their services are lay-led, with beautiful singing (something for which many Catholic parishes are not known), and a sense of community that draws in everyone.  

The first night, I attended with Father LaMorte, the second with Father LaMorte and John Boss.  While I understood the liturgy and the Italian, John didn’t, but our experience was the same, a true sense of belonging to something bigger than who we are as individuals.  At the beginning of the liturgy, a woman gave John the community’s prayer book so we could follow along, and at its conclusion, a man, probably in his late-20s (you don’t see many people under 60 in U.S. Catholic churches today, especially men), looked over at John and me, smiled, and wished us a “buona sera,” or good evening, with a smile that said, “You are welcome here.”  The members of the community stayed in the Church and hugged, kissed, and talked for more than half an hour.  Contrast that with something that happened in my home parish in Poughkeepsie recently.  Four parishioners, all middle-aged and active in the parish, were talking while standing in the vestibule of the church – not in the sanctuary, where the community was communicating at Santa Maria in Trastevere – and were scolded with a “Shush!” by a priest younger than all of us who was ordained about three years ago.

I picked up a prayer card in the back of Santa Maria in Trastevere. It contained a photo that epitomizes the spirit of the Sant’Egidio Community.  The pews were removed (they are not permanently affixed in these ancient churches) and tables were set up to serve lunch to Rome’s hungry at Christmas.  They came to the church to be fed – physically and spiritually.  Isn’t that what religion is supposed to be about?  For Christians, isn’t that was Jesus asked us to?  Thirty to forty years ago, that’s what the Church did through its social ministry, fighting for equal rights for women, African Americans, Latinos and Latinas, working men and women, and expressing a “preferential option for the poor,” woefully out-of-fashion in the Church and in our country in 2011.

If it weren’t for the pastor of St. Martin dePorres, Msgr. Jim Sullivan, I probably would no longer be a member of any parish (unless I felt like commuting to St. Francis Xavier on 16th Street in Manhattan, like I did for a few years in the 90s).  He is what priesthood is all about – honestly prayerful, leading through humility, accepting (not just “tolerating”) others, humorous and capable of delivering a serious message through great homilies or simple actions from which the newly ordained can learn much.  We are blessed to have him.

This is a long entry, so I will wrap it up and fill you in later on what our class did during our two weeks abroad.

One last thing…props to Delta Airlines.  Their music selection for June includes “Delta Pride,” with this description “Party in the Sky celebrates Pride.  Delta is proud to be an official sponsor of Pride celebrations in Atlanta, New York City, and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.”  My message to Delta:  I’m proud to be a Sliver Medallion frequent flyer on your airline.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Coming Out for Equality and Against Bigotry

Over the last couple of weeks, I have listened to leaders of the Catholic Church, my church, denigrate the dignity of gay and lesbian couples.  Their denunciations are couched in terms like, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” or the Church will lay claim to victimhood due to “attacks” that some of its leaders, clergy and lay, are called bigots and homophobes.

I originally was going to submit this post last month following a vitriolic unsigned editorial in all likelihood penned, or minimally, approved by Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, RI, which appeared in the diocesan newspaper Rhode Island Catholic, ironically, on Divine Mercy Sunday.  When it comes to gays and lesbians, divine mercy is an oxymoron to Tobin.  The stunningly anti-gay editorial uses the politically charged terms “the radical homosexual lobby,” “so-called ‘equality,’ ” “homosexual activists,” “activists’ (sic) judges," “traditional marriage,” and “passing a Defense of Marriage Bill.”

A week ago, I attended a panel discussion at the United Nations on “The Dignity of the Human Person” celebrating the beatification (one step from sainthood) of Pope John Paul II.  That evening, I tweeted, “Would love to ask if that includes #lgbt folk.”  By the end of the event, I got my answer: NO!  The last speaker, Douglas Farrow, professor of Christian Thought at Montreal’s McGill University, told the audience he had been asked by the event’s Vatican sponsors to focus on “marriage and attacks on the family.”  He started by saying, “Human dignity is rooted in marriage and the family.”  He went on to explain how that dignity cannot be granted to gays and lesbians living in committed relationships.  Farrow went so far as to twist the great UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, developed by one of my idols, Eleanor Roosevelt, by saying those rights do not extend to marriage equality for gays and lesbians for all of the “human history,” procreation,” etc. arguments we had heard ad infinitum.

Then, in this unholy trinity of attacks, I read a tweet last Friday by the excellent NY Daily News blogger Celeste Katz (@DNDailyPolitics) that New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan believes “Legalizing Gay Marriage Could Make "1984" Non-Fiction Reading, including the offensive canard that legalizing same-sex unions and providing the same protections granted to opposite-sex couples will lead to the slippery slope of being “morphed again to include multiple spouses or even family members.”  I will give Dolan credit for not including family pets and inanimate objects in those possible unions, something other so-called religious and political leaders have claimed.  Dolan’s comments led one of my twitter followers, Nick Fugitt (@nfugitt) to respond:  "Telling people who they can and can't marry is...NOT like 1984? #cuethecircusmusic."

All these attacks come as the New York State Legislature moves closer to a vote on marriage equality.  There is no doubt this human rights law will pass the State Assembly and would be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo if the State Senate reverses its 2009 vote that saw the bill lose by 14 votes.  My own state senator, Steve Saland, promised me he would vote in favor, but when he saw no Republicans would vote “aye,” he caved and voted “no.”  Saland later told me he feared being primaried – despite the fact he had served in Albany, at that time, for 30 years.  He also told me it was the worst vote of his career and that someday the law would pass.  Senator, that someday could be in June 2011 if you become a “profile in courage” and vote yes for equality.  

I'm normally an optimist and I hope and pray that a marriage equality bill will become New York law, but earlier today, Republican state senators from Binghamton and Brooklyn joined notorious anti-gay Pentecostal minister and Democratic State Senator Ruben Diaz to introduce an incredibly mean-spirited bill to invalidate out-of-state same-sex marriages in an attempt to curry favor with the state’s Conservative Party, which threatened to withhold its endorsement from any GOP senator who votes for marriage equality.  I am also a realist and know there are not enough votes to repeal DOMA, the true barrier to full equality nationwide.

How can anyone say that my relationship of 30+ years with Pete is of no value?  How can any politician vote to deny legal recognition of a partnership that has lasted longer than a majority of heterosexual marriages?  How can a religious leader say we should not be afforded the human dignity allowed straight couples who were married for 55 hours (like Britney Spears) or Catholic presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who believes so much in the sanctity of marriage that he has had three of them, the last two following adulterous affairs.

As I started writing this post last Saturday, Pete was lovingly caring for his 94-year-old mother, cleaning her then dressing her before driving her to New Jersey to get her hair cut by the woman who has been doing that job for 30 years.  Being a caregiver is a full-time job, yet that’s not all Pete does.  He also sells real estate following a layoff 16 months ago that ended a 32-year radio career.  It’s not easy and his modesty will not allow me to detail the difficulties he has performing all the tasks necessary for being a caregiver, but everyone who knows Pete confirms what I have long known – he is the warmest, most caring, deeply loving, selfless person anyone ever meets.  Meeting him was a gift from God.  Being partnered with him for this long, and for hopefully at least another 30+ years (God willing), has been a blessing.

I’m proud and honored to be an “adopted dad.”  Pete and I serve as mentors to young men and women in college and in careers.  We are actively involved in our community, pay our taxes, keep up our home, help our neighbors, and contribute what we can to a wide variety of nonprofits and causes.  I am heartened by the changing attitude of Americans of all ages, but particularly among those under 30, and religious leaders of many denominations, including those Christians who ask “What Would Jesus Do?” and respond by being welcoming and accepting of all. 

God forbid, if something were to happen to me tomorrow, Pete and our moms would lose the house we have lived in for the past 12 years, thanks to estate taxes that Pete would be forced to pay because there is no right to inheritance for lgbt couples.  He will not get my Social Security benefits, unlike my mother who received my father’s benefits after his death in 1999, nor would he get the measly $255 death benefit granted by Social Security.  While I am grateful that Marist College offers domestic partner benefits, I must pay several thousand dollars in state and federal taxes on the 85 percent contribution made by my employer, something that legally married couples do not have to do.  At least we were born in the U.S.  If one of us were a foreign national, we could face deportation.  There are more than 1,400 federal and New York State laws that protect married couples, protections denied to Pete and me and millions of other lgbt couples, because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the failure of the New York State Senate to offer equal protection under the law.

Is this what the Catholic Church and elected officials really want – forcing surviving family members, including two nonagenarians, out of their home?  Do they really want to put roadblocks in the way of affording healthcare?  Do they really want to split families?  Do they really enjoy inflicting pain and suffering?  Doesn’t sound very “Christian” to me.  Catholic leaders say their religious liberty is being infringed upon.  I have two answers to that.  First, the Catholic hierarchy is infringing upon the religious liberty of denominations like the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which supports marriage equality.  Second, the Catholic hierarchy’s religious liberty should not trump (pardon the use of that term/name) Pete’s civil liberties and mine for equal protection under the law. 

I know there is a lot of money to be made from homophobia and bigotry.  Those evils put cash and checks in collection plates, business reply envelopes from organizations like the National Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association, and candidates’ coffers. 

If there is a “Last Judgment,” I believe those who preach hate and stand in the way of equality for the lgbt community will be asked the question posed by Jesus to Saul on the road to Damascus at the time of his conversion: “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).  For “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers (and sisters), that you do unto me,” (Matthew 25:40).

Pete and I hope that by the time of our 31st anniversary in October we will have civil recognition of our relationship in the eyes of the state.  We already have that recognition in the eyes of God.

One last thing…I was saddened to see in my own parish bulletin last weekend two pages on “Why Marriage Should Not Be Redefined,” provided by the "Family Life" Office of the Archdiocese of New York.  It contained the same tired, disproven accusations about the collapse of human civilization because of “homosexuals” (a “tested” word that sounds much more ominous and “other” than saying “gays and lesbians”).  It also contains a “reassuring” paragraph telling the faithful that this is proper discrimination, or as the Archdiocese of New York phrased it using a double-negative, “It is not improper ‘discrimination’ to treat same-sex relationships differently from marriage…” This is the type of cultural relativism decried by the Church itself by no less than Pope Benedict XVI, but it is apparently justified by the Church against gays and lesbians.  The “Good News” is that New York is turning away from the discrimination promulgated by the Catholic Church.  Even though I am Catholic, I must remind Church leaders that Catholicism is a minority religion in the U.S.  In addition to the bold support from the Episcopal Diocese mentioned above, more than 700 religious leaders from around the state recently restated their support of marriage equality.  If the Church argues that a “minority” population of gays and lesbians should not be allowed to change the definition of marriage, the Church must remember that they, too, are in the minority and should not bar people of any faith, or no faith at all, from a civil marriage.

Thanks to my beloved adopted son Luke (@LShane262) for giving me the name for this entry and for his support and encouragement to post what he calls "a rant, but a necessary one."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Networking for Fun and Profit

Networking is how you will get a job. My students hear me say this a dozen times a semester. That’s why I bring successful former students of mine back to the Marist campus to talk about how they got their first job, progressed into the position they have today, and get noticed for their accomplishments. Those alumni and alumnae, in turn, offer their help to review resumes and cover letters, provide advice on how to conduct the job search from application to interview to acceptance, and generate leads on openings in their own organizations or at other companies.

The Marist network is very strong in many fields.  It’s not just communication; it’s information technology and computer science, teaching, criminal justice, finance and business administration.  Many alums have signed on to be part of the Marist Alumni Career Network, a great resource for students getting ready to graduate and alums who are looking to move up or move into a new field.  Generally speaking, Marist students enjoy their four years at the college, learn, work substantive internships, make many friends, and have a good time.  All of those activities go far in preparing someone for the work world.

I also take my students to Manhattan every semester to see Marist grads at their places of work. This year, we visited Kaplow (@kaplowpr), where Robert Gedarovich (@rgedarov) is supervising digital & media strategist for technology & consumer practice (nice title).  Among his accounts is Foursquare (@foursquare).  We also visited David Heinzinger (@dvyhnz), senior account manager at G.S. Schwartz.  Bob and Dave have made names for themselves in the use of social media in public relations.  Their roads to where they are today serve as an inspiration to current students, many of whom fret they won’t find a job, particularly in this down economy.  Positions, especially entry-level, are opening again, and as part of that Marist network, I often get job leads from my former students or from Marist grads whom I’ve gotten to know through twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media platforms.

How else can a prospective public relations pro network?  If a student is not a member of PRSSA (@PRSSANational), s/he should be.  There are workshops, conferences, and other events, some of which have minimal cost.  Attend them, mix and mingle, introduce yourself, and exchange business cards.  More and more students are printing their own business cards, which are a great, inexpensive investment.  No matter how technologically advanced we become, the business card will always be around.

The social media platforms I mentioned earlier are also networking opportunities. If you’re a public relations major, I invite you to go through my twitter lists, especially PR and SocialMedia. There are many pros on those lists, people who may someday be a potential employer.  Follow them and create a conversation with them.

Participate in twitter chats.  There are many, but two I recommend in particular are #journchat (Mondays from 8 to 10 p.m. ET) and #prstudchat, held monthly but with frequent hashtag posts daily.  Both are a mix of journalists, public relations practitioners, and current students.  You can also joined their LinkedIn groups –  for #journchat:; and for #prstudchat:  Search for other groups on LinkedIn that represent your interests and participate in those discussions. 

There are twitter chats on a wide variety of personal and professional interests.  My "adopted son," Luke Shane (@LShane262), is a phenomenal marathon runner.  I've watched him in the Philadelphia Marathon, where he finished 53rd out of almost 9,000 runners in 2:42:52, and the Boston Marathon, where he finished 341st out of nearly 30,000 runners, despite running on no fuel thanks to an errant fire alarm in our hotel at 5 a.m. marathon morning.  He has been networking in the running world, has some very well-known marathoners following him, and participated in his first #runchat tonight.  Luke had many of his points retweeted and he picked up more than a dozen followers because he knew what he was talking about and he knows how to create and encourage conversations via social media.  Luke's blog, Witness the Fitness, was an inspiration for me to start "Looking Through Stained Glass."

Follow blogs and offer your informed opinion.  There are many, but among those I recommend are RepMan, PR at Sunrise, The Bad Pitch Blog, PR 2.0, Euro RSCB Blog, and The Flack (although I despise that term).  Read posts and comment – but use your real name.  Many of these blog writers are partners or other senior members of firms.  If you are on their wavelength, or even if you’re not but can defend your point of view, you will get noticed.  If there is an opening, you could be contacted by the blogger, or you can apply and be a familiar name to the person who will make the hire.  Prove your value, your knowledge, your ability to think strategically.  These are qualities sought by employers.

The days of applying for a job via a newspaper “want ad” are over, and you may be surprised that the offer that comes from a posting is a glorified boiler room cold calling operation.  You have a better chance of getting that first job by making contacts and becoming known.  You will still have to prove you have the skills and character traits to earn that job.  Once you get it, work hard, do more than is required, get noticed for your successes, and future offerings will come to you.  PR is a small community.  My students marvel at how intertwined individuals are.  Co-workers today may be competitors tomorrow, and vice versa.  Who knows how someone you meet today can help you down the line, or how you can help him or her.

One last thing…what a week I had!  It was exceedingly busy and will be for the remaining fortnight of the semester, so there goes the idea of posting at least three times a week.  Alex Shippee (@AlexShippee34) graduated from Marist a year ago and is someone whom I greatly respect and deeply admire.  I don’t know too many 20-somethings who read Dante for pleasure.  Alex does.  He is well read, an outstanding writer, and best of all, a wonderful person.  When he gives me advice, I listen.  I asked Alex for feedback on my first few posts and I hope he doesn’t mind me telling you what he said:

“High quality content goes a long way. I was blown away by your ambition to post 3 times a week (!) and definitely wish you luck, but you know better than I that blog content sits a while. Weak posts can do more damage than a period of silence. If you're ever unsure about a particular post, let it sit in 'drafts' while you think about it. Knowing you, you'll have another great story before too long, especially if your first three blogs are any indication.”

Excellent suggestion, Alex.  I’m still learning, too and I appreciate your help.  You can follow Alex’s blog at

Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Stand Out from the Crowd and Get the Job You Deserve

Over the course of a year, about 100 students ask me to help them with their cover letters and resumes and I am happy to do so.  With the help of my colleague Leslie Bates, editor for college advancement and proofreader par excellence, we look for content, style and grammar. With a little over three weeks until Commencement, this would be a good time to briefly review what makes a candidate stand out among the stiff competition for jobs in a hurting economy.  These same rules hold true if you’re applying for an internship.

Too many applicants focus on themselves in their materials.  I tell students, “Employers don’t care about you,” which makes them pay attention.  What they care about is, “What are you going to do for them?”  Keep the focus on your prospective employer and relate how your skills will help her or him.

Start doing that in your cover letter.  I can tell more about a job applicant from the cover letter than from a resume.  Your cover letter reflects your writing skills, personality, marketing and public relations efforts, and your ability to think strategically.  Sell yourself from the first sentence.  Nearly every cover letter starts off with a phrase similar to, “I am applying for a job in X,” or “Please consider me for Y position with your company.” BLAH!  Stand out from the crowd!  You have to impress the person who may hire you – 10 seconds.  Don’t waste a single word or line of that letter.

Perhaps you had an experience that is in keeping with the ethos of the organization.  In 2006, one of my students, Amber Sisson, attended a Rally for Darfur in Washington, DC.  She saw a table for Amnesty International and picked up some information about their work, including a notice on the availability of internships in Amnesty’s Manhattan office.  Amber started her cover letter with a story about herself – interest in human rights and her attendance at that rally.  She then connected her personal interest to the work of Amnesty and detailed how the skills she learned studying communication at Marist would be put to work as a public relations intern.  Amber got the internship.

Megan Murphy, like Amber, a 2007 Marist alumna, wanted to intern with the Hudson Valley office of United States Senator Chuck Schumer.  That job was run out of the Valley representative’s home.  Megan did her research on the person who had the job – a Red Hook town board member – and related her thoughts on the balance necessary to represent a senator while serving as a local elected official and how her writing, speaking and organizational skills could help.  Megan got the internship and today is Senator Schumer’s scheduler.

Reflect on who you are and relate those qualities to the needs of the company or division to which you are applying.  Impress with your accomplishments, but only insofar as you can explain how what you’ve done fits in with the needs of the company or agency.  Are you an Eagle Scout?  Don’t be afraid to mention that because the qualities necessary for that achievement translate well into one’s work and personal life.  Are you a marathon runner who has placed well?  Mention that because the discipline required to be an elite runner bodes well for a prospective employee’s work habits. 

Did you have a substantive internship?  Provide information and be a specific as possible.  A student who came to see me the other day had a 3.98 grade point average but no work experience.  He told me that he thought all you needed to do is work hard in college and have a high GPA.  As impressive as graduating summa cum laude is, he will be at a competitive disadvantage looking for work because he does not have one day of practical experience, while his competition has had one, two, three, even four internships – worth more than a year of work experience.  A common question I hear from graduating seniors is, “An entry-level job is looking for a year or two of experience?  How can I get that experience if I’m not given the opportunity to get an entry-level job?”  The preferable answer is a “real” internship, that is, one where you are doing more than making copies and getting people coffee.  You should be able to show great work products in a portfolio.

Use power words in your résumé and cover letter.  A good list can be found here: Complex vocabulary is not paramount and be wary of too many adjectives.  Be confident without being cocky.  A little humility goes a long way.  At the end of your cover letter, close the deal.  Tell the person reviewing your material what to do next.  "Review my résumé." "I look forward to detailing my qualifications for and interest in this position."  Make sure you give your email address and phone number, even though it's on your résumé.  Stand out from the crowd with good (and error-free) writing and relate to your employer, and you stand a good chance of being called for an interview.

My next post will focus on the value of networking.  The days of want ads are long over. 

One last thing…I had hoped to add a post per day, but my schedule, especially this past week, kept me in meeting after meeting, which meant I couldn’t do my writing for work until after 5 or 6 p.m., often continuing until 10 or 11 p.m.  By then, I’m exhausted, though you’ll still find me posting on twitter or Facebook until the wee hours of the morning.  I will do my best to post at least three days a week during the school year, perhaps more frequently during the still-busy but slightly-less-hectic summer.  While I have many topics in mind for the next several weeks, if you have suggestions for areas you would like me to address, please feel free to comment or send me an email at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Just Another #MaristMonday

I don’t like being called a “social media expert” because I don’t believe there is such a thing.  The social media evolution, or should I say revolution, makes it nearly impossible to keep up with every new networking or bookmarking site. Last June, when I spoke at the College Media Conference in Baltimore, MD, I mentioned a Web site called  It listed 149 such sites which you can check to see if your user name or “vanity URL” is still available.  Fast forward to earlier this month.  I gave another social media presentation to 140 senior communications officials from colleges and universities across the U.S. (as well as Japan and Spain) at the Public Relations Society of America’s Counselors to Higher Education conference in Washington, D.C.  When I showed again, the number of sites increased to 160.  Entrepreneurs and technorati want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey (founder of twitter), and established mega companies like Google and Yahoo! experiment with new applications to keep us eternally connected to one another – or at least to their platforms.

Yes, I enjoy speaking about social media, but no, I’m not an expert.  I share what I’ve learned by doing, succeeding, failing, repurposing. Tips from other users more intelligent than I are much appreciated, too.  Such is the case with on twitter.  That suggestion came from 2007 Marist alumnus Michael Sterchak, an analyst with the Federal Reserve in New York.  

Marist employees get together after Commencement for a community-building BBQ called Marist Fun Day to celebrate the hard work of the college’s faculty, administrators and staff and the successes of the academic year.  That moniker makes me think of The Bangles 1986 hit “Manic Monday” and its catchy riff, “Just another Manic Monday.”  Unfortunately, I do not get to attend Marist Fun Day because I am usually overseas teaching a religious studies class (this year in Greece, Turkey and Rome for a course on the life and writings of St. Paul).  Even though I’m not there, I can’t get The Bangles' tune out of my head as I silently sing “Just another Marist Fun Day.”  You’d think I would have taken the next logical step to come up with the catchy hashtag that encourages a sense of community among the Marist College Family.  I didn’t.

It was Michael (@ on twitter) who suggested , which has developed into an opportunity for students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, parents and others to share their current Marist experiences or fond Marist memories.  I also use it as a Marist version of #FF (Follow Friday) and share the twitter handles of Red Foxes who are new to the medium or newly-linked with me.  On a couple of occasions, #MaristMonday became a trending topic, no small feat considering Marist is a relatively small college.

Michael took his creativity a step further.  On September 21, 2009, I tweeted “Today is , but tune in Wednesday for the biggest announcement in Marist history.”  Michael retweeted that with the hashtag #BigNewsMaristWednesday.  For the next two days, more than 2,000 individual tweets tried to guess what the big news was.  That campaign generated buzz and excitement and pushed traffic to the Marist Web site for the announcement of a $75 million gift – the largest donation in Marist history and, as noted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the 12th largest gift made to any nonprofit organization that year.  The generosity of the late Raymond A. Rich included a 42,000-square-foot architecturally and historically significant mansion on the Hudson River in Esopus, NY, and the creation of the Raymond A. Rich Institute for Leadership Development.

How many visitors came to the landing site on the Marist homepage highlighting the big news and the slideshow of the Mansion?  I’ll let Google Analytics show you the spike in traffic for that day:

A second URL for the news release announcing the gift showed similar statistics.  By comparison, 641 visitors viewed Marist Public Affairs news release pages yesterday.

That’s when I saw, first-hand, the power of social media, and I’ve been a proponent ever since.

There will be additional posts on social media down the line, but I would like to note an event held one week ago tonight.  For junior communication major Marissa DeAngelis (@), what started as a project for Professor Mark Van Dyke's (@) public relations class turned into a learning opportunity for her and about three dozen Marist students, faculty, staff and local residents. Marissa, who is from Scituate, RI, organized a “TweetUp,” a gathering of twitter users connected to Marist who met face-to-face, many for the first time.  It was also one of the first TweetUps on any college or university campus in the country.

Marissa, who will be in my COM470 class next semester, senior Alyssa Bronander of Wyckoff, NJ (
@), who was in my class last semester, and junior Luke Shane of Bolton Landing, NY, (@ – who ran the Boston Marathon in 2:44:49 the day before and still had the energy to give a dynamic presentation at 9 p.m. Tuesday), all Communication majors, gave tips on how to best use social media. They detailed their forays into blogging and tweeting and the personal and professional connections they have made.  Dean of Undergraduate Admission Kent Rinehart (the official @ tweeter) discussed how the college uses social media to communicate with current and prospective students and their families.  I discussed the pros and cons of “digital footprints” and how they can help or hurt a student’s (or for that matter, anyone’s) search for employment.

Marissa’s organizational skills led to a well-run event.  Alyssa will graduate in less than a month, and I can sum up her talents by a hashtag that some wise public relations agency, corporation or nonprofit will heed: #HireThisWoman!

Also in attendance was Chris Cornell (
@), director of social media at Thompson & Bender, a Westchester-based public relations, advertising and marketing firm and the man behind Chris also reported on the event for The Examiner, a weekly newspaper covering New York's Westchester and Putnam counties. The full article can be found at

One last thing...I’d like to thank Sarah Abouelmakarem (@), a Marist junior communications major with a concentration in public relations, for creating the banner at the top of this blog.  Sarah used her artistic skills to develop the stained glass motif.  We’re going to work on it just a little more, but her generous offer to give a visual identity to this blog was unsolicited and is greatly appreciated.  Thank you again, Sarah.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Thanks for stumbling across this blog. Originally I planned to start writing on a regular basis a year ago, but, as always, life got in the way.  As a one-person public relations shop for Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, it's difficult to find time do anything outside the normal duties of my job.  However, as I approach 12,000 submissions on Twitter, I thought, "If I can post my thoughts 140 characters at a time morning, noon and night, perhaps I can offer more substantive reflections at least once a day." Whether anyone else is interested, well...that remains to be seen.

My wonderful neighbors, Hal and Elayne Seaman, gave me a diary last Friday, suggesting that I record personal thoughts during my trips abroad teaching religious studies courses for Marist.  I also teach a course called Organizational Writing, which is really a course on life, with lessons in journalism, public relations, ethics, the job hunt and whatever else pops up during the course of a 75-minute class.  A number of my students have started blogs of their own, ranging across a broad spectrum of interests.  Seeing the enjoyment they derive from writing gives me hope, as I believe putting pen to paper, or type to screen, is a dying art.  Yet, I am rejuvenated when I read outstanding work by current and former students who have been in my classes or whom I have come to know in other capacities during my 16+ years years at Marist.  Between the suggestion from Hal and Elayne, and the efforts of my students, I thought I'd give this blog another try.

Just a few personal notes for this first post.  Born and raised in the city of Poughkeepsie, I graduated from city schools, Dutchess Community College and Fordham University.  A few years later, I undertook additional studies in philosophy and theology, for one year at Iona College, then two years at the Pontifical North American College in Vatican City and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy.

When I was working as a news reporter at WEOK/WPDH Radio, I was paired on PDH with Peter Clark and we became the station's first morning team. Pete, a true musicologist, played tunes and I, the newsaholic, was the reporter. We also did comedy routines together, usually focusing on a funny but true "kicker" story at the end of the newscast, which led to successive ad-libbed puns and the pairing of an appropriate song.

Little did I know that chance pairing would last 31 years (as of this October).  Pete is, by far, the most incredible and wonderful person I've ever met -- kind, loving, caring, intelligent, and the epitome of ethics and values.  He is more than my partner, he is my life.  More on Pete and our family down the line.

After leaving radio, I worked a succession of public relations positions in the Hudson Valley for a public employee union, county legislature, and regional utility, before entering academia at what was then called Bryant College in RI.  In 1994, I became chief college relations officer at Marist and three years later started teaching.  I had prior teaching experience at Dutchess Community College in the early 1980s, when I was barely older than my students, and returning to the classroom has been a true blessing.  In 2002, I left Marist briefly to become vice president of Pace University, returning to Marist as chief public affairs officer after only five months.  I'm glad I did.  Had I not, I would not have met many incredible colleagues and students, some of the latter have become like members of my own family.  I hope to highlight them in future posts because I love them, am proud of them, and want to promote their accomplishments in work and in life.

Community service has also been an important aspect of  who I am since I was a high school student and I am currently a member of several foundation and nonprofit boards in the Hudson Valley, Albany and New York City.

As someone who reads entries on a dozen blogs daily and follows many other news sources, I appreciate what it takes to be "newsworthy" or otherwise maintain one's interest.  Let's see if I can get you to come back, encourage others to stop by, and offer insight into whatever happens to rise to the top of my consciousness on a particular day.

One last thing...the title of this blog comes from my desire to write a book about my experiences in seminaries in New York and Rome, and I always joked that I would call it "Looking Through Stained Glass," as I got to see the best and worst in the Church and its adherents.  The same is true today, 24 years after I returned to the United States.  I see people using their faith to help, but also to oppress and harm their fellow human beings.  Posts in that realm will probably be among the more controversial.

If you're still here, thanks for reading, and I look forward to your feedback and suggestions.  Perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks.