CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: Please excuse me if I vent a little, but maybe you can help me with a problem at work. About five weeks ago, I started at a new agency with a very good reputation, and though I have four years of PR experience, I'm the most junior member of the team, age-wise. The owner, who has been in healthcare PR for more than 15 years, hired me to bring in fresh ideas from a new perspective.

Q: Please excuse me if I vent a little, but maybe you can help me with a problem at work. About five weeks ago, I started at a new agency with a very good reputation, and though I have four years of PR experience, I'm the most junior member of the team, age-wise. The owner, who has been in healthcare PR for more than 15 years, hired me to bring in fresh ideas from a new perspective.

He gives me challenging projects every once in a while, such as seeking out and pitching new clients, but I'm mainly relegated to menial tasks.

For example, this week he asked me to develop an organizational system for filing hard copies of client and editorial contacts. He had them in alphabetical order, but I thought that it would be easier to group them by organization, in case a member of our team wasn't familiar with an account. I knew that my boss wouldn't approve of such a drastic change, so I also made up an alphabetical reference list, just in case. It was a very tedious and time-consuming project, but once I was done I felt like I had done a good job and made our files more user-friendly.

When I showed my boss what I had done, he got very upset and insisted that I change everything back. I calmly explained why I thought my system would work better, but he still wouldn't accept that my work was valid.

He asked some of the senior account executives for their opinions and most agreed with me, but I feel that I'm just not taken seriously, and it's become problematic. Is it because of my age?

Mr. T, Boston

A: There are actually two problems here. One is that you are given work that is far below your experience level, and the other is that when you complete the work, it's not seen as valid. You need to figure out why these things are happening before they can be fixed. Is it because your boss is in truth prejudiced (ageist, as I like to call it), or is he afraid to try new things? Perhaps his agency's "very good reputation" is based on outdated tradition, and though he decided to hire a young person, he is reluctant to change his ways. Another thing you should think about is whether you have proven yourself to be competent in your more responsibility-intensive ventures. Though I don't doubt that you are conscientious, efficient, and very organized, I wonder if your boss has a good reason for giving you projects that are better saved for the receptionist or intern. Since we are in the business of communicating, it is important that you talk to your coworkers and discover the root of the problem. Perhaps you could request a review with your boss or another senior member to discuss areas in which you can improve and gain your supervisor's trust.

Once you've figured it out, try to remedy the situation before packing up your desk (he did let you have one of those, right?). But if he is indeed an ageist, and it's become truly unbearable, you may want to flip to the job listings in PRWeek.

Q: I know that PR is social by nature, but every time I go for drinks with one of our clients who owns a bar, I get drunk and say something embarrassing that I regret the next day. Is there a more graceful way to be social without making myself look unprofessional?

Ms. A, New York

A: Hmmm. Normally, I'd suggest opting for a social alternative where it's easier to keep a professional demeanor. But since your client owns a bar, I can see the problem.

Just remember: It's your responsibility to manage the amount you drink.

I'm sure your client sees drunk people all the time at the bar. Perhaps it's happened often enough that's it's not a problem with him. However, if you're still uncomfortable with your own behavior when under the influence, ask for a soda instead.

- 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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