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Should You Keep a Work Journal?


This is a guest post by PR Columnist, Alison Kenney.

You’d think that in our over-sharing world with accommodation for more than 31 million bloggers (Source:, 2012) and hundreds of millions of social media status updates (my own estimate), keeping journals would be the norm. But I’m not sure it is yet. (Given the private nature, it’s hard to tell.)

In addition to being an outlet for your observations and frustrations, journals can be very useful tools for professional development, which is why media from Harvard Business Review to Inc. to Forbes have covered work journals recently.

In the HBR blog, author Teresa Amabile asked her graduate course students to keep a journal and one student continued the practice during throughout her career:

Teresa’s former student, Sarah Kauss, recently wrote that the journal she was required to keep in the MBA course Managing for Creativity led to a daily practice that she has found invaluable as she traveled a career path from consultant to entrepreneur. (Sarah’s company, S’well, makes and sells unique insulated drinking bottles.) At first, Sarah rebelled at the idea of keeping a journal:

At the time, as a busy MBA student, this seemed uncomfortable and time-consuming. I needed to be working and networking, not taking time to write about perceptions and feelings. Or so I thought. Professor Amabile’s assignment introduced me to an entirely new type of journaling that has helped me in both my personal and professional life.

Sarah highlights the first three benefits:

Journaling about work has given me the focus to identify my strengths and the activities that bring me the greatest joy. Surprisingly, the least glamorous tasks of my professional career to date have been some of my career highlights. I have gleaned many lessons about where I can be most engaged and therefore most successful in the workplace. Journaling has also given me patience and sharpened my ability to plan. Although it can seem that I’m making only baby steps of progress — and, yes, sometimes going sideways or even backwards before moving forward — my journal is an independent arbiter (and a silent cheerleader). There will always be more progress to make, but for me it is important to know that I am moving closer to my goals. I am always encouraged to look back and know how far I have come in a year’s time, and how major obstacles seem to become minor speed bumps in hindsight. This record gives me great patience and perspective when new challenges come my way. Even now as a very busy entrepreneur, I can’t imagine not taking a few moments at the end of each day to record in my journal the progress made and my hopes and plans for the next phases of success.

If that isn’t enough of an endorsement for starting a work journal, consider some other benefits. For instance, keeping a work journal can help you:

Develop new perspective – writing about an experience at work “keeps you honest” and taking the time to describe an event in writing often allows you to uncover other perspectives.

Identify problems – a work journal can serve as a log to help you spot issues that you may be too busy to notice otherwise.

Track progress toward goals – by referring back to written goals and comparing daily progress a journal will help you track your progress

Notice patterns – are your work disappointments the same each day? Do you rejoice in the same successes? These patterns may serve to point out strengths or weaknesses you weren’t aware of.

Jot down inspiration/ good ideas – journals are good repositories for ideas – be they notes, photos, quotes, or whatever jogs your mojo.

In addition, Forbes cites these six reasons for keeping a journal: log good ideas, learn lessons, list good advice from mentors, vent (in a safe space), collect compliments and envision the future.

In the PR world, work journals could serve as note keepers on work-related activities from managing a client’s expectations to jump-starting a new campaign.

In this Business Insider article, Madeline Stilley writes about the questions she asks herself at the end of each work day:

  • What events stand out in my mind from the work day and how did it affect my inner work life?
  • What progress did I make today and how did it affect my inner work life?
  • What nourishes and catalysts supported me and my work today? How can I sustain them tomorrow?
  • What one thing can I do to make progress on my important work tomorrow?
  • What setbacks did I have today, and how did they affect my inner work life? What can I learn from them?
  • What toxins and inhibitors impacted me and my work today? How can I weaken or avoid them tomorrow?
  • Did I affect my colleagues’ inner work lives positively today? How might I do so tomorrow?

She also recommends asking yourself “what’s going well?”

In a presentation at the Solo PR Summit, Mary Ellen Miller and Amanda Littlejohn recommended a work diary as a way to keep track of peak events. They referenced the book, “Do more great work” by Michael Bungay Stanier and suggested that a work journal serve as a place to work out the exercises in Stanier’s book to help guide you through the process via brainstorming, reflection analysis of actual observations.

It might be obvious, but logging journal entries seems like a great activity when you’re looking for work. This post shares some ways that journal entries go beyond spreadsheets for tracking contacts and statuses to help provide insight during a job search.

What do you think? Should you keep a work journal?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


Dust Off Those Copywriting Skills: Why Writing Headlines is More Important Now than Ever

Hi everybody, headline goes here please
This is a post by guest columnist, Alison Kenney.

We could talk for hours about the effect the Internet has had on public relations (how it has altered our media targets, changed our communication channels and the frequency of our communications, distorted our perception of what constitutes news, etc.), but one area that has been impacted greatly but hasn’t been talked about as much is the art of headline writing.  Yes, PR pros write a lot of headlines — from the obvious, like press release headlines, to the more subtle, but equally important, like email subject lines.  Blog posts, bylined articles, pitch letters, marketing brochures, tradeshow booth signs and even 140 character “headlines” on Twitter are also a big part of our work.

One major way the Internet has affected headline writing is with search engine optimization (SEO).  Using the right keywords in a headline will make that piece easier for search engines to find, thus giving it more visibility on the web.  But how do we balance the need to attract search engines with the need to attract human readers?  CopyBlogger offers some great advice on using specific, niche keywords to attract both in this post in its Magnetic Headlines blog series.

Speaking of keywords, my friend Norman Birnbach thinks the use of the word ‘kill’ by copywriters over at Newsweek is, ahem, overkill in recent headlines.

As someone who has worked primarily in B2B public relations, where the emphasis in headline writing is on being factual and concise, I’ve struggled with writing more creative and attention-grabbing headlines.  What worked for one audience, say a B2B technology firm, won’t fly with a different audience in the consumer retail industry.  It’s important to know your audience before trying to write your headline.

Whatever audience you’re writing for, your headline should make an intriguing promise but also be credible so that readers will want to read more.  For example, shifting a question that is important to your audience (“How do I write a good headline?”), into a strong statement (“How to write effective headlines”) will offer readers an intriguing reason to read the rest of the article.  Adding more specific information (“Five Easy Changes to Make Your Headlines More Attractive to Customers”) gives the reader more information about what will be revealed in the rest of the text to know whether they want to continue reading.

Another tip from CopyBlogger is to study headlines that have been proven to work and to learn how they work.  Brian Clark wrote on CopyBlogger that “if you understand how headlines work, you don’t need to try to write a homerun headline for every blog post. But you will end up writing snappier headlines off the top of your head, even for the more day-to-day mundane posts.”

Direct advertising headlines are great examples to learn from.  They work if they get people to open their wallet and make a purchase.  Along these lines, Dylan Boyd offers these guidelines for writing better email marketing subject lines:

  • Don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment with length and characters
  • If you want to grow a mature email program, spend considerable time and energy testing a variety of offers
  • Avoid using your sender name as a repetitive part of the subject line, and personalize only where it makes sense

Headline writing is an important part of business writing and critical to getting your full message across.  What are your tips for writing eye-catching headlines?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


How to Write Under Pressure


This is a post from guest columnist Alison Kenney.

Writing is an essential skill in a PR career.  Writing under pressure is an essential-er skill.

PR people do more writing each day than they may realize — from the expected stuff, like press releases, contributed articles, bios, speaker proposals, award submissions, case studies and pitch letters to other forms of communication like blog responses and emails offering client counsel.  Then there′s the way we represent ourselves with social media — the profile updates and community contributions or perhaps the blog posts we write.  While it′s important that all of these written communications be sharp, smart and clear, many are done on the fly or with an expected tight turnaround.

From my experience, here are a few tips for writing well under pressure:

  1. Get rid of distractions — close down a few Windows on your screen, close the door to your office or settle into someone else′s office or a conference room.  Tune out the buzz around you so that you can focus on getting the job done.
  2. Just do it — stuck on finding the perfect opening or headline?  Sometimes it′s best to just start writing and get the juices flowing, then go back to edit later.  One of my supervisors once told me that the key to writing in PR is to think about the news you are trying to communicate and imagine two old men sitting on a bench communicating it for you; the point was that if you could imagine their conversation you would have your headline, your sub-headline and your supporting arguments.
  3. Break it down — if the idea of writing an entire piece right now is overwhelming, create smaller, more do-able "homework" assignments.  When I′m really stuck and not motivated to write something that really needs to get done, I set a schedule for myself.  For instance, I′ll tell my lazy self that I must write for the next 30 minutes and then reward myself with another, more desirable activity.
  4. Start with the easy stuff —maybe thinking of a fresh way to write the CEO′s quote in a press release eludes you, but you can easily write the fact-filled introductory paragraph and company boilerplate paragraphs.  Doing so makes it look like you′ve written more than you have and could be the inspiration you need.
  5. Imagine what the reader will think — every piece of communication you write has an intended audience.  Put yourself in their shoes for a second and think about what they want to know, what their first question will be upon reading your headline or opening line or what their reaction will be to your news.
  6. Take a break — this kind of flies in the face of my first few tips where I suggest just focusing on the matter at hand, but honestly some of my best ideas come when I switch gears for a short time and get up from my desk to do something different.
  7. Keep a diary — a lot of writing experts recommend this because it gets you in the habit of writing, gets the ideas to appear on paper and is a fabulous way to get a sense of your writing style.
  8. Read — I recall a saying that good writers are good readers, probably because reading a variety of materials will expand your vocabulary, open you to new ideas and keep you current.

What are your tips for writing under pressure?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience.  She is based on Boston′s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on Learn more her here.

Photo credit: Markus Rödder

Interesting links: December 22 - January 4

Here are some of the interesting links I've come across in the past couple of weeks. It's lighter than usual. I'm still playing lots of catch up from spending much less time online and more time with family and friends. Enjoy!


Twitter Yourself a Job - Wall Street Journal
5 ways to fix your job search - US News & World Report
How to Rally Workers for a Tough 2009 - Wall Street Journal
Using the Social Web to Find Work | - Free e-book by Chris Brogan about using your social networks to aid in your job search.
How to Write an Email that Generates a Useful Response - Penelope Trunk


10 Volunteer Opportunities For Free Travel - just in case, always good to have a plan B
TweetShrink -have trouble writing 140 characters or less? This might be for you.


Interesting links: December 8-14


Interesting links for the week. Enjoy!


Explaining Your Layoff to a Job Recruiter -
The Web′s Top 10 Layoff Sites
- Business Pundit
Signs You Need to Start Your Job Search - Punk Rock Human Resources
Internship Ratings
Annals of Education: Most Likely to Succeed: Reporting & Essays - The New Yorker


    10 Awesome Websites To Check Before You Travel This Holiday Season - Dumb Little Man
    How To Overcome Writer's Block: 15 Tips
    Nancy Drew - Adam Singer


    Interesting links: November 20-26

    Interesting links for the long weekend reading... Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy!




    Interesting Links: Week of October 20, 2008


    Interesting links for the week. Enjoy!

    Marketing and PR

    Seth Godin: Be careful who you work for

    The Future Buzz: 65 bite-sized web marketing tips

    CopyBlogger: How to write with a distinctive voice

    Lateral Action: The dark side of creativity - Burnout


    CareerRealism: Can you handle the truth - 10 tips about career (that no one ever tells you)

    Brazen Careerist: 3 things Gen Y can expect from the recession

    PayScale: Joe the Plumber and the middle-class squeeze

    The Work Buzz (CareerBuilder): Outrageous excuses for missing work

    Personal interests

    Ted Talks: James Nachtwey: TED Prize wish: Share a vital story with the world

    Spreed:News: Speed read your news. Sign up for free and read news and blogs at 300-1,500 works per minute. [Via Wired]

    600 words by Esther J. Cepeda: Se habla Oprah: Spanish-language translation actually ignores Hispanics


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