Life in PR and Generation-Why

Posted: March 20, 2008 by Nathan Kam in On The Job, Random Raves & Rants
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


My friend and colleague Melissa Chang, director of marketing for Aloha Tower Marketplace and PR/social media queen and Honolulu Advertiser blogger, wrote a thoughtful post the other day titled “Welcome to my life” about the realities of public relations and misperceptions of our profession. I think she hit the bullseye (and some) as she shared a tale about a recent day at the office. It’s exactly this kind of chaotic schedule that attracted me to the profession more than nine years ago. I really believe you need to have some kind of “madness” within you to enter a career in PR. Just ask my wife…I’m sure she’d agree.

After graduating from UH Manoa in 1999 with a journalism/PR degree in hand, I fully understood what I was getting into when I got my first PR job at the now defunct PRWorks in Waikiki. After completing an internship and working part time there as an assistant account coordinator (don’t think you can have a lower title than that), it taught me that PR was a tough job that required a thick skin, long hours, sometimes working on the weekend, a lot of “grunt” work to start, and the ability to work with a bunch of different personalities to get the job done. Oh, did I mention the low pay? Who cares! It was the perfect job and I couldn’t wait to start!

As an eager 20-something at the time I did it all. I faxed, photocopied, filed, stuffed envelopes, made coffee, got the bosses lunch, answered the phone, took the mail down to the post office, took meeting notes, compiled horrendous clipping reports, and probably a lot more that I can’t remember. Not the most glorious of jobs coming out of college, but one that I loved. And I must have been pretty good at it because in short time, I was promoted to account executive. My attitude was work hard, learn everything I could, show my bosses I could do what was asked of me well, exceed their expectations, PAY MY DUES, then wait for the rewards to come. And they did.

Sure things are different now. I get to work with great clients, deal with important business people, develop and execute exciting PR initiatives, and manage a great team. But I still have the same attitude today as I did when I started at PRWorks and came to McNeil Wilson Communications in 2000. I take nothing for granted, am still learning something every day, and striving to deliver to the best of my ability. It doesn’t hurt that I had great mentors along the way like Craig Miyamoto, Deborah Sharkey, David McNeil, and David Wilson. Ultimately, I attribute my work ethic to my parents who always supported me, pushed me to do my best, and never let me give up. It’s also the attitude I try to instill in those I work with.

As a supervisor of people and workloads now, it’s hard to dismiss Melissa’s observation about the growing Generation Y work force coming into the marketplace. It’s also a subject of great discussion lately. In her post she writes:

“Yes, it (PR) can be glamorous, but you have to pay your dues and put in the hard work it takes to get there. If you are the type who physically punches in at 8 and out at 5, and demands to have a balance of “me” time, get a government job. If you are fresh out of school and looking to start at the top, call all the shots, make top dollar, and not have to do much but look pretty, … good luck.”

It’s the reality every company is facing today. A story in the Daily Mail describes Gen-Y as “those born after 1982 who expect everything to fall into their laps but who, in reality, massively overestimate their own abilities.” Yikes!

I’m still trying to figure out if this is a fair way to characterize this talented pool of “young-uns,” but one thing is certain in my opinion. This new work force is at our doorstep and cannot be ignored. The challenge for us Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers is to find ways to peacefully co-exist with Gen-Y, manage their expectations, keep them engaged and motivated, and show them that a little hard work never hurt anyone. Will this be easier said than done? Either way, I’m up for the challenge!

If anyone’s got some best practices to share, I’m all ears!


  1. neko says:

    haha…thank you 🙂

    i often get scolded by my friends in the private sector…”you’re a BAD state employee!” – since i don’t take advantage of the punch-in-punch-out “perks” of a government job. every now and then i contemplate jumping ship, but those darn pesky kids (all 175,000 of them) keep me where i’m at 🙂

    btw, i think i’ll have something blog-worthy for you soon 😉

  2. golfnutn8 says:

    neko…you’re one of the hardest working government employees i know…what’s wrong with you? NAH!! what can i say…when you’re passionate about what you do, you do what it takes to get the job done well…

  3. Melissa says:

    Yes you can!

  4. neko says:

    can i disagree about the government job comment?

  5. Melissa says:

    Well, you know I gotta agree on that! I also started in agency work, and after a while the low pay really got tiresome. So I actually ASKED (gasp!) what I needed to do to make more money. The owners explained some basics–having skills was good, and giving good client service was good, but to really get to the next level, I’d have to show how to bring in more money for the company. Bring in new clients, or have existing clients sign on for new projects. So I did.

    Nowadays, they don’t ask anyone what they need to do to make more money. They just want you to give it to them because…well, because they want it. One young un DID ask me what he needed to do, and I told him EXACTLY what would take him higher, faster, and he shrugged. He didn’t want to take any time to acquire the skills needed. Keep in mind, I would always dread each time I gave him a raise, because I knew that instead of saying “thank you” he’d snap and want more. What a way to approach what is supposed to be a happy announcement.

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