ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
October 28, 2008

Monday Luncheon Recap: Penelope Trunk on Navigating Today’s Workplace


You won’t be able to describe Penelope Trunk’s career advice as traditional.

For instance, during her luncheon address Monday at the PRSA 2008 International Conference: The Point of Connection, in Detroit, Trunk said that job hopping and regular sex are two of the keys to career satisfaction.

Trunk, author of “Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success,” popular blogger and syndicated columnist for The Boston Globe, has a freewheeling, almost stream-of-conscious presentation delivery. If she worked from a prepared speech, the text wouldn’t contain any punctuation.

With the sass of a stand-up comedian and an unorthodox approach to a timeless subject, Trunk began by quickly describing her unusual career trajectory, including her start as a professional beach volleyball player. Later, she spent nearly 10 years as a marketing executive in the software industry. She also founded three companies of her own, enduring an IPO, merger and bankruptcy along the way.

Her current take on career opportunities may be seen as counterintuitive, though that kind of perspective is how she has amassed a following in recent years.

“Many people think that you have a lot of choices and the ability to manage your career if it’s a good economy. But when it’s a bad economy, you have to suffer through crap jobs. This is true for people who are in crap industries. Like if your hedge fund went under, then you’ll have to suffer through a crappy job,” she said, “But I truly believe that this is the golden age of public relations. You have so much more control over your careers right now than other people do.”

Why is this the golden age?

“When everyone is cutting back and reducing spending, the best way to [make up the difference] is with social media. The people who know how to do it are in public relations,” Trunk said. “As a blogger, I get pitched all the time. It’s the people in public relations who know how to pitch bloggers. And it’s the people in public relations who know how to use Twitter and who know how to create genuine conversations, which is what social media rewards.”

Trunk then offered up eight rules for navigating the workplace today:

  1. Money doesn’t equal happiness.
  2. Focus on optimism.
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    “Anybody can switch their optimism around just by changing daily things that they do,” she said. “That’s a better route to happiness than saying like, ‘My life sucks, so I need a new job.’”She continued: “The key thing about increasing your happiness is your sex life. It has nothing to do with your job. As long as your job is OK, then you should focus on your sex life.”
  3. Mentoring is the new currency.
  4. Job hop.
    Trunk cited statistics that workers ages 18 to 30 last in a job an average of 18 months. “This means they’re building their skill set really fast. They’re more engaged. They’re building their networking faster,” she said.
  5. Breaks are good.
    “The people who have no breaks in their résumé are the people who don’t take any time to think about what they’re doing,” Trunk said. “So everybody should cultivate some breaks in their career. It makes you look more thoughtful. How you want to present this is that you have a grip on your career and you take control over your personal life and you know what you’re doing next.”
  6. Blogs are tools for career stability.
    “To be known for your ideas and give yourself flexibility to move around to places that will get you what you want, the best thing that you can do is put your ideas out there,” Trunk said. And there’s no better way of doing that than by creating a blog. “Connect with other people about your ideas. So that’s what you are known for, and it’s a way to take control over your personal brand.”
  7. Office politics are nice.
    Office politics are an inescapable part of work life. Putting your head down and doing your work is a good way to ensure that you don’t connect with anyone, Trunk said.
    “People who do office politics best are the people who sit back and look around to see who needs help…and what their own skill set is to help them.”
  8. Everybody is in public relations.
    “More than ever, people understand their personal brand. If you’re maneuvering your own career, then you can’t be dependent on the corporate brand,” Trunk said. “You can’t associate yourself with your corporate brand all the time. You have to associate yourself with what you stand for, what you believe in, how you generate ideas. You have to define your own brand for people so they know how to connect with you.”

By John Elsasser, editor-in-chief, PR Tactics (PRSA’s award-winning monthly newspaper).  The publication provides PR professionals with practical how-to information that will help improve their job performance and advance their careers.  The Strategist, PRSA’s quarterly print publication, examines changing concepts and occasionally challenges current wisdom about the practice of public relations.

For coverage on The PRSA 2008 International Conference: The Point of Connection, visit www.prsa.org/conf2008.

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