I’ve known Emily Negrin now for probably almost 10 years. And, she’s always been one of those people I think would be fun to work with. Why? She’s smart. Values networking and ongoing learning. And, genuinely likes to laugh–and doesn’t take herself too seriously. That’s my kind of co-worker!
Who knows, maybe we’ll get that chance someday. For now, I thought it would be fun to give Emily the stage today and learn a little more about her, including why she loves the ag industry so much, the value of a PR degree, and how to best balance work and family lives.
First, you were recently promoted! Congratulations! Tell us about your current role at Geosys and your areas of responsibility.
Thanks! I am the global director of communications and brand marketing at Geosys, a company which specializes in satellite remote sensing for agriculture. Basically, we use satellites to monitor the growth of large crops worldwide and provide the data in a variety of ways to agronomists, insurers and commodity traders. My role revolves around positioning Geosys as the industry leader in remote sensing for agriculture by serving as a trusted partner for our core market segments.
Since joining the company, we’ve put a strong focus on generating informative content that helps agribusinesses better understand technology and its applications. The AgTech space has become crowded in recent years – but while this has generated awareness for the industry, it also has created noise and confusion. I was a bit of a math and science nerd in school, so I’ve really enjoyed gaining a deeper understanding for the technology to find better ways to communicate on important topics.
And this is a very new role for our organization, so I’ve worked on developing our team and integrating our expertise across our global business.
You travel a decent amount for your current job at Geosys–and not to locations that are close to Minnesota! Any tips for others who have frequent business travel on getting things done from the road?
I would boil my advice down to this – find balance. Business travel should not mean that you need to work 24-7, so make sure you have time for you. Maybe it’s watching a movie on the plane, working out at the hotel or taking a stroll around the town your visiting. But the flip-side is you are there to work, not take a vacation. Make sure you’re getting your work done and being responsible. If the conference gets done at 3pm and you want to get a run in before dinner, that’s great. But that may also mean that you need to spend a couple hours after dinner doing some work so you’re not behind. I just try to make sure that I get a full day of work in, regardless of where I’m working from.
You spent the first 10 years of your career working on the agency side. I recently wrote about the importance of agency experience on the corporate side. What do you see as the biggest benefits of your agency experience that you use every day in your role at Geosys?
I thought your blog post was spot on – nicely done! One of my first pieces of advice when I meet with college students looking to start a career in public relations is to start at an agency. You’ll gain access to a wide array of professionals who can help shape your career and generally have more room to grow at a much faster pace (if you’re willing to work for it).
The long-term benefits of my agency experience are plentiful, but I’d say the biggest one is agility. Time is literally money in the agency world, so you learn to do good work as efficiently as possible – because you want to keep the client or win that next big project. You also become very agile in your ability to work with different industries and personalities. Client management is a unique art form. Master that and you can learn to work with just about any personality. You also gain agility of skills because you are often expected to wear many hats in the agency world, so you become of jack of all trades. While a corporate job may have more linear focus, the understanding of the various aspects of PR and marketing will serve you well.
You’ve spent the better part of your 15-year career in the food and ag business. What drew you to that industry initially? And, why have you stayed in it all these years?
Food was an obvious industry of choice for me – I LOVE being in the kitchen. Cooking is my form of therapy. But the funny thing is for the first 20-ish years of my life, I swore I would never do anything in agriculture. The younger version of me thought agriculture was boring. Both of my parents grew-up on farms and my dad has worked in agriculture his entire career. So, I had good exposure to the industry, but it didn’t really spark my interest until I realized the controversy around modern agriculture. There is this huge chasm between the people who grow food and the general consumer. And worst of all, the chasm is often filled with a lot of misinformation. It’s a huge communication challenge and I’ve always been drawn to a good challenge.
Agriculture is the linchpin of society. It affects everything from the health of people and our land to the world economy. When you think of it, it’s quite natural that my love of food transformed into a career in agriculture. I find it wildly fascinating to learn about the various aspects of the industry and how farming practices vary across the globe. A part of me wishes I had dove into the agriculture industry sooner, but my business-to-consumer and food marketing experience have helped me bring new perspectives to the table and led to some exciting work.
You’re also a board member with Open Arms of Minnesota, an organization devoted to cooking and delivering free, nutritious meals to people living with life-threatening illnesses in the Twin Cities. What have you learned as a member of that board that has helped you in the day job at Geosys in the last few years?
I have been involved with Open Arms of Minnesota in some aspect for nearly 10 years now – it’s such an amazing organization that has impacted my life in so many positive ways. When I think specifically about my role as a board member and the impact on my current job, I’d say that it has helped me look more holistically at the business. As PR practitioners, we manage a lot of budgets, but we don’t often think about complete balance sheet of the company. I can honestly say that I’ve learned a lot about financial operations from my involvement on the board and this is something that has helped me better approach aspects of my own job.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t make a quick plug for Open Arms of Minnesota … lots of impactful volunteer opportunities from cooking in the kitchen, to delivering meals, to helping out in the various gardens around the metro. Check it out: www.openarmsmn.org
You’re also one half of Minnesota’s PR Power Couples! How do you and Keith both manage successful, demanding PR careers and a young family?
We laugh at ourselves. A lot.
Like most things in life, it’s all about managing expectations. We’re not trying to win the parent of the year award – we simply want to raise healthy, happy boys who don’t require years of therapy in their adult life to undo the damage we caused. We’re also not trying to conquer the business world – we simply want to do work that we can be proud of and have careers that support my shopping our family. Anyone who know us, knows we have an AMAZING support system with my parents. They jump in to help when travel schedules get demanding. That is huge! You need a village – some have it with friends, some with family – but you need people who love and support you.
However, my biggest piece of advice is this: don’t expect to find balance. Life is not a balancing beam that you’re trying to stay on … it’s a seesaw. If you want to achieve big things in your career, you are going to have moments when you must give more time to your work. If you want to have anyone special in your life – spouse, children, friends – then you are going to have moments when you must give them more of your time. If you want to stay sane, you are going to have moments when no one gets any of your time. And you will fail. But no one who has succeeded in life got there without failing. Which is why I keep the following quote from Nelson Mandela on a post-it note on my desk: “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” Keith and I have done a lot of learning. But we’ve had a few wins along the way as well (the biggest one was finding each other).
Since it’s front-and-center right now, how are you and your team thinking about the impacts of GDPR on Geosys? What steps are you taking to prepare with your global business?
For those readers who don’t have the fun of managing this, GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation for Europe. In a nutshell, you must provide more transparency about when, where and how you’re collecting personal information on any European citizen – and you need to be able to prove that you have completely deleted their personal information from your system upon request.
Our company was founded in Toulouse, France and most of our staff is still located there. Our IT department really took the lead on this and hired a consultant in France to manage the compliance. From my side, it’s been about making a few minor adjustments to the website and documenting some processes. Because most of our work is business-to-business, most of the data we have is not classified as personal (for example, your work email address), which has made it a little easier for us to manage. I can imagine that this is a much heavier lift for consumer facing businesses.
Blogger Mark Schaefer recently wrote a post making some strong points about how a college marketing degree may be worthless in 2018. Is he right? Especially as it relates to PR degrees?
I have lots to say on this topic, but I’ll try keep this brief. If you want a career in PR, go to college and get a degree.
The best advice I got was from Mr. Richards, the college admissions specialist at Lafayette High School back in Missouri. I knew I wanted purse a degree in PR but I didn’t have my heart set on any particular college or location. He told me that PR was all about experience. Any college with a good school of journalism would give me a solid education in the field. From there, it was up to me to find quality internships. So, he advised me to find a college in, or very near to, a major metropolitan area, as this would provide the best opportunity for internships throughout my four years. I fell in love with the University of Minnesota during my tour on a cold November day… it was destiny. But the rest was up to me.
Once you get to college, you need to be strategic in your class selection. When it comes to your major study, make sure you’re gaining applicable knowledge. It doesn’t matter how things are theoretically supposed to work. This is why I found the greatest value in adjunct professors, as they could best speak to current, real-world examples. Again, going to a college in a major metropolitan area is advantageous because there is a larger pool of working professionals to pull from for adjunct positions.
Recently, I’ve noticed a lot more traction around a term and space I’ve worked in with a couple clients the last few years: the “Employer Brand.” According to Wikipedia, an “Employer brand” is the reputation of an employer, and its value proposition to its employees, as opposed to its more general corporate brand reputation and value proposition to customers.
And, it’s gaining momentum as a legit discipline as companies continue to compete in a bitter war for talent. Heck, there are people devoted to this work as their entire job. But, by and large, Employer Brands are still largely managed by HR teams.
And, that’s proving to be a bit of a problem.
Partially because HR teams aren’t equipped to do most of the work.
Partially because HR teams don’t have the time to do most of the work.
And partially because it’s not a big priority (yet).
As a result, I’m starting to see more comments like this from Amber Naslund, a talented digital marketer and communicator who is currently looking for work.
It’s time for communicators to step in and help manage these Employer Brands.
I know it’s happening in spots (I know first-hand, as I’ve helped two major companies in Minnesota with this exact work in the last four years)–but it’s not happening enough.
I believe we’ll see more communicators pulled into this work in the years ahead for three big reasons:
1: The war for talent isn’t going anywhere–in fact, it’s only going to intensify
Even if (when) the economy tanks again, companies will still struggle to find workers in many key areas. Just last week, I was reading a story in the Star Tribune about how Subway franchises are finding it nearly impossible to find new employees. And franchises like Subway are hardly alone. Many different industries are struggling right now to find enough (and the right) talent to survive. And with more Boomers retiring in the next 10 years, that problem is going to get even worse. Demand for solid Employer Brands will increase.
2: Employer Brands need to be built and nurtured, just like Master Brands
This is where communicators can really add value, as this is our bread-and-butter. We know how to build an integrated communications strategy using a mix of digital and traditional tools. We know how to conduct audience research. We know how to measure success. Employer Brands aren’t just a Glassdoor or LinkedIn page–they’re an integrated experience. Both online, and off. This starts with your owned channels–primarily your Careers site (or section of your site). Then, think about the job seeker experience as it relates to your company. What does that look like from start to finish? Have you walked yourself through that lately? Think about all the online tools involved–including social media outposts and Glassdoor and Indeed. Employer Brands are just like Master Brands: They need to be built and nurtured over time.
3: A growing part of Employer Brands include social media channels
This is especially true if you’re trying to recruit younger employees. Just think about how the millennial set researches potential employers. They start by visiting the company’s Glassdoor page. They look at employee reviews. They look at the CEO approval rating. Then, they might check out LinkedIn to learn more about the company through the Life section, which focuses on culture-based content. They might then head to Facebook or Instagram to see how the brand portrays itself publicly. This is the research process of the 21st-century job seeker. And, it feels like many companies just aren’t acknowledging it yet. Social media is a HUGE part of that research process–maybe the biggest piece. So, companies really need to put their best foot forward when it comes to social media marketing and their Employer Brand.
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?
Especially on the heels of recent news that Reddit’s user base now outnumbers Twitter’s. In fact, Reddit now has the THIRD MOST users (330 million) of any social platform on the web (behind only Facebook and Instagram).
What’s more, Reddit has grown a whopping 30 percent in just the last six months.
But, it’s not just the user base that’s growing. It’s the time users spent on Reddit.
According to We Are Social’s Simon Kemp: “The average user spends 15 minutes 47 seconds on Reddit.com each day, compared to just over 11 minutes for visitors to Facebook.com, and 6 minutes 23 seconds on Twitter.com.”
So, let’s recap: Reddit has the third-largest user base on the web, it’s growing, and it’s users spend more time on Reddit than users do on Facebook or Twitter.
Oh, also: Reddit is continuing to make its platform better.
In the last year alone, they’ve added user profiles, expanded ad options and improved measurement tools.
So, given all this, the big question is: Why aren’t more brands using Reddit?
The answer is complex.
For starters, I think Reddit’s interface and look and feel have a little to be desired. Let’s be honest, the site looks like a web site from 1997–not 2018. I would argue that’s what makes it so attractive to the internet’s elite (and, it’s probably a strategic decision by Reddit), but I also believe it’s part of what turns brands and marketers off. Why would I want our brand associated with a social network that looks more like Geocities than Instagram?
Second, historically, Reddit hasn’t exactly embraced corporate America. If anything, they’ve kinda given corporations (especially big ones) a bit of a stiff arm. Up until recently, there haven’t been a lot of efforts to attract brands (outside of brands orchestrating AMAs from time to time). Limited ad options existed. And, even the ones that did exist, weren’t easy to use. Quite simply: Reddit hasn’t been courting brands the way Facebook and Google have over the years.
Finally, a big part of resistance from companies probably also comes from the Reddit user base itself. Reddit’s users have a rep. I would say that rep leans internet elite and features those who pride themselves on being ahead of the curve on all things digital and culture. The Reddit power users are a digitally savvy, early adopter set. For example, locally here in MSP, people like Greg Swan, Holly Spaeth and Nathan Eide are most likely Reddit users. But, if I were ask my Mom what Reddit was, she would probably say it was a new promotion at the Minneapolis Public Library. Despite having 330 million users, Reddit is not mainstream social platform. It’s the biggest niche social platform in modern history. And its users (at least historically) have not been big fans of corporate American invading their territory on Reddit.
What do you think? Why aren’t more brands adopting Reddit given the recent data points we’ve seen lately?
When I was in my early 20s I heard the question for the first time:
“Do you have any agency experience?”
At the time, I didn’t. But, I quickly realized I had better get some because it was all anyone on the agency OR corporate side was talking about. At least, that’s what it seemed like.
And, in the past 20-plus years, not much has changed.
Agency experience is still virtually a “must have” in the PR, comms and social media worlds. Why? Well, that’s what I want to explore a bit today.
I was spurred to tackle this topic after a conversation with a friend who’s in a hiring position with a large company here in Minneapolis. She was re-iterating the need to find potential team members with agency experience.
If you’re reading this, and you DON’T have agency experience, you’re probably wondering the same thing I was when I was in my early 20s: “What’s the big deal about agency experience? Do I really need it?”
The short answer to that last question is “yes!”–at least by most accounts.
The answer to the first question requires more elaboration. I tend to think there’s four big reasons:
1: Agency experience makes you a better corporate consultant
Make no mistake about it, just because you got a job on the corporate side, doesn’t mean you’re not “consulting.” You’re still serving “clients”–these clients just happen to be fellow employees (most likely executives or senior vice president-types). So, all that consulting experience you gained from the agency side is awfully handy. I’m talking about the softer side of our industry. How you manage expectations. How you run a meeting. How you follow-up after a meeting. How you deliver bad news. The consulting part, I would argue, is often the biggest part of most corporate jobs (especially the higher you go in the organization).
2: Agency experience makes you a better multi-tasker
My traditional agency experience is pretty limited. But, I definitely consider my solo practice “agency experience”. First and foremost–it’s taught me how to better juggle multiple clients and priorities. Because again, on the corporate side, you’re going to be serving many masters. Just like you did on the agency side when you worked with 3-5 clients at a time. Right now, I’m working with six clients–if you count ACH Communications as a client, which I do. That’s a lot of juggling–and it’s taught me how to prioritize my work and my days in new and different ways. It’s a “hyper-priortizing” that agency-types have a tendency of doing better than others. And, it’s a skill most hiring managers are looking for.
3: Agency experience tests the bounds of your stress tolerance
I adopted a mindset from a colleague years ago–it goes something like this: When you think you’re stretched to your max, you easily have 20 percent more to give. Translation: When you think you’ve hit your limit, keep pushing. Then, push some more. This is something agency (and now, solo) life taught me quickly. Instead of trying to manage your stress, push the bounds of it. You might be surprised how well you handle it. And, I think that was at the root of my old colleague’s quote. And, it’s the mindset and ability many hiring managers are looking for as jobs often require you to deal with difficult personalities, manage impossible deadlines and deliver bottom-line results.
4: Agency experience trains you to work on deadline
Yeah, I know corporate folks have deadlines. But, when you’re on the agency side, it’s different. A deadline’s a deadline. And you either hit it, or you can show yourself the door. That’s the attitude that’s often bred within agencies. And, they have to so they can compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Again it’s not that corporate folks don’t operate under deadlines, it’s just that agency folks are hard-wired to hit those deadlines every single time. Or else. That’s the difference. And that’s the mindset hiring managers are seeking.
So, that’s what makes agency experience so damn valuable.
Agree/disagree? I’d love to hear from my friends who are hiring managers on the corporate side on this one.
As an independent consultant for the last eight-plus years, I spend a fair amount of time in coffee shops. I meet people for coffee in coffee shops. I meet clients, occasionally, in coffee shops. And I do a fair amount of work in coffee shops.
Before you judge (because I know this is frowned upon by a decent amount of people), consider the circumstances of today’s solo consultant:
- Solos have no office environment (no need for most solos to have an office since it adds little value)
- Solos have few social interactions (increasingly, this is a big challenge; just being AROUND people makes me feel better!)
- Solos need better coffee! (let’s face it, no one can make “coffee shop level” coffee at home)
As a result, you see many solo consultants working from coffee shops each day. I know because I am one, and because I work out of coffee shops on an almost daily basis.
In those eight years of working from coffee shops, I’ve learned a few things. I’ve observed behaviors. And, I’ve picked up some tips that I thought might be helpful to share with you today. I’m calling them the five unwritten rules of working from a coffee shop in 2018:
Rule #1: The coffee shop is not your actual office.
I see this all the time. People treating the coffee shop like their actual office. Their stuff is spread across three different table spots. They have a laptop, two notebooks, Post-It Notes and other office “stuff” out. Heck, I remember about 5-6 years ago, a guy had his freaking iMac desktop at the coffee shop (I had a pic of this, but somehow have lost them). I’m all for working at coffee shops, but the coffee shop is not an office. Don’t treat it like one. Be respectful of other people’s space.
Rule #2: Kindly step outside to use your phone
By far the unwritten rule that’s broken the most. Every day I visit my local coffee shop, someone is on their phone with a client, colleague or friend. I’ve been guilty of this as well, but have made a concerted effort to leave the coffee shop and take these calls outside or in my car. Here’s why: When you’re on a con call in a coffee shop, it’s not only rude to the people around you, it’s rude to the people on the con call! The coffeehouse background noise alone is enough to drive people insane. I know because I’ve got the question before: “Where are you? It’s really loud there.” Yeah, that’s code for “get the hell out of wherever you are and get to a quiet spot so I can hear you.” Don’t take calls in coffee shops. It’s rude no matter how you look at it.
Rule #3: Be very careful with your confidential info
Consider the situation: You’re on wi-fi that’s almost never fully secure. You’re in a public space where anyone can be looking over your shoulder at your laptop. It’s not exactly a safe environment to be opening and reviewing sensitive client documents. So, save that work for when you’re in your home office. Clients would most likely be horrified to learn how borderline reckless some consultants are with the information they are privy to and are working on in open coffee shop locations.
Rule #4: Headphones are OK, but be aware of your surroundings
I never go anywhere without my headphones. I use them as a way to tune out the ambient noise at coffee shops from time to time. But, be careful. You don’t want to tune out so much that you don’t hear that person behind you trying to squeeze into a spot at your table.
Rule #5: Always buy something. Even if you’re not thirsty or hungry.
The coffee shop is a business–and in many cases, the coffee shop is a SMALL business, just like you (there are so many small business coffee shops to support in the Twin Cities–here are my faves). So, support that small business. Never work from a coffee shop without purchasing SOMETHING. This is a rule that should virtually never be broken if you’re working in a coffee shop.