CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: I work on a small team within a very large agency. I just started about five months ago, and I'm one of the newest members of the team.

Q: I work on a small team within a very large agency. I just started about five months ago, and I'm one of the newest members of the team.

I'm also new to PR, having worked in sales before. When my boss "Sarah" goes on vacation in about two weeks, I'll be working on my own, which I don't think is a problem. I'm a good worker, and I'm pretty sure I know how to do my job effectively and without assistance.

But as vacation time nears, more and more coworkers come by my desk and ask me if I can handle the pressure of working on my own. I wonder if they're just trying to make small talk, or if there is something bigger Sarah hasn't told me about. When I asked her if I'll be doing anything out of the ordinary while she's gone, such as covering some of her duties, she brushed me off and said she'll talk to me about it before she goes. I'm starting to get really nervous. Do my coworkers know something I don't?

Ms. G, New York

A: The best way to know would be to ask them. I'm not psychic, after all. But it seems that the underlying problem is trust. If your colleagues are not making small talk, they may doubt your ability to perform without supervision. The way to overcome this is with subtle self-promotion. Talk about projects you're working on in social situations, and take control of your office image. You seem to be confident of your performance, so let others see it.

The other issue here is with your boss. You must communicate better with her, whether or not she has the time. A good way to ease your nerves about her impending holiday is to let her know that you understand her busy schedule. Ask, "Will I be doing anything while you're away that will require any training?" If yes, make an appointment to discuss it with her, and if no, breathe a sigh of relief and schedule something anyway, so that you both are clear and the work flows smoothly.

Q: I work in-house for a public service company in a controversial field.

Last year (before I joined!), a series of problems in one of our offices led to extensive coverage by a local paper, which won the journalist critical acclaim from his peers. Because of the award, the paper refuses to recognize the fact that our office has totally turned itself around and put its problems behind it.

I have met with the reporter and the whole editorial board several times with my supervisor. She still thinks that we can solve this problem with more meetings - all of which cost money, as the newspaper is a $300 flight away from our West Coast HQ.

I think we're just banging our heads against the wall. I've suggested that we approach the problem from another direction, with a brand advertising campaign. My supervisor feels that it would be too expensive and an admission that our PR efforts aren't working.

Well, they're NOT working, and I have argued that a localized press campaign won't cost more than a couple more of these fruitless trips. How can I argue my case for a more holistic approach to solving our problems with communications without her feeling slighted?

Mr. S, San Francisco

A: If you truly feel helpless and frustrated, it is time for you to make a deal. Let your supervisor know that you really don't think that the media campaign is working and why. (Be sure to mention those $300 flights.) Next, propose the following to your supervisor: You will draw up a proposal for the brand advertising campaign if she does the same for a continuing media relations campaign. Then, present both to the CEO or COO to decide the best course of action. While it may seem confrontational and competitive, all will appreciate the initiative taken to create the best (and correct) reputation for your company.

- Do you have a problem that no one else has been able to solve? Try Pandora. E-mail her at pandora@prweek.com.

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