Category Archives: careerist

The Culinization of Megan Soto

Nothing inspires more trepidation in me than word combinations like braised arugula, caramelized onions and pan-seared scallops.  I’m a terrible grocery shopper, and in the four months since moving into my apartment, I’ve had to crack the window to clear my smoky kitchen about as many times as I’ve had to take out the recycling.

Immersion in San Francisco’s foodie culture and a gaggle of gourmet friends did nothing to build my confidence, or, frankly, capture my interest. It’s not that I don’t appreciate that some foods taste better or are better quality than others, I get that. And I’ll own up to some epicurean stirring in my heart when I watch Julie and Julia and Ratatouille.

Let’s just say that there is no farmers market magic for a girl who grew up in rural Oregon where there were fresh produce stands, rampant wild raspberries, and orchards lining every road. And honestly, ‘cooking for one’ for the last two-and-a-half  years always dampened those small sparks of inspiration.

But that’s a dish for another meal.

You can see why, then, it was such a “Wait, what?” moment for a few of my friends when we discussed my new career direction while they unloaded a massive, perfectly browned roast from the oven or whipped up fresh pesto in (what I’ve since learned is) a food processor. …  Just let that sink in.

The transition from tech PR to food PR seems about as stark a difference as you can get. Buzz words suddenly change from innovation, NextGen, solution, etc. to organic, grass-fed, GMO/hormone free, artisan, etc.

My resolve to acquaint myself with what so many of my friends have touted for years — the ability to cook — crystallized a few weeks ago with an article that was circulating our office here at Maxwell. When I read Josh Ozersky’s write-up on Portland in Time , which name-dropped such hallowed haunts as Beast and Bunk, I decided I have a rare opportunity to bolster research for my industry AND sharpen (er, learn) a skill in tandem. The following grounded that resolve:

  • I finally watched Food, Inc. which led me to promptly join my local food co-op.
  • I now have a fridge, oven and shelves that are completely my own, untainted by house-mates (and their ever-judging eyes), with which to furnish and cook ingredients, ingredients, ingredients.
  • The more I learn about my clients’ products, the more I want to give my body the wholesome and healthy — and learn to do it myself.

In truth, I feel a little cliché saying “I moved to Portland and now I’m into food!” But denying it would be nonsensical since it doesn’t so much make me a bandwagon foodie, but rather someone who can transition into a new industry, right?

Here’s the thing, maybe it’s not that new.

While SF offers an array of authentic ethnic and local food options, Portland is quickly solidifying its reputation as hub for innovative food solutions for the NextGen of American Epicureans — innovation that happens on the street, in restaurant kitchens, on our rural and urban farms. Innovation and shifts and trends that spring out of and  yet, pour into, an industry that’s constantly churning with novelty and development. When you look at it that way, you can’t tell that I left tech PR (or Silicon Valley) at all.

But I did. And that flag is staked, the culinization has begun.


On Being the Expert

One of the things I’ve really struggled with in my client relations development is being “the expert.” When you work for an outside consulting firm, as I do, you are basically the adviser to your client in all things media and publicity – you are the expert. It’s difficult, as you build rapport with your client, maybe even to the point that your team calls with them are friendly and collaborative, to assert yourself with authority, especially if you’re young. This can mean telling a client when one of their ideas sounds like a bad one – horror of horrors.

  • Speak with conviction. You can be unsure about something, without sounding like it. And you can say you don’t know without sounding incompetent. The more you express your ideas with conviction, the more confidence your client has in you, even if you’re wrong.
  • Be researched. It’s easier to speak with conviction if you know what you’re talking about. Be ready to address all the outcomes, all questions, all concerns with sound and knowledgeable advice.
  • Rehearse. Speaking confidently with clients comes with experience and a lot of practice – and even with critique. Ask for feedback from your teams and your coworkers and really work on areas where you falter.
  • Disagree with a client. Being upfront about bad and risky ideas tells the client that you’re forward thinking, not combative. This also means you’ll need to have an alternative direction or a new idea at the ready. When you’re able to be on-the-level with a client, you can get a lot more done.
  • Be firm. Part of this is the whole “speaking with authority/conviction/your heart” deal, but in the long run, it’ll let the client know that you’re not wishy-washy. But this also means being ready to hash out why it’s a bad idea.
  • Be flexible. Your client is paying you. At some point, they’re going to remember that too and you need to know that they’re going to make whatever decision they want to make. You need to be ready to go with it whole-heartedly and have a game-plan around it.
  • Have managers/coworkers read your client emails before sending. Feedback is important in your growth here. You may think your email conveys a lot of value and expertise, but your more experienced coworkers can help you spot weak and passive language and ultimately make you a stronger communicator.

The point here is that you never want the client to have to ask “Why didn’t you tell us this was a bad idea?” if you can avoid it. What they decide after you advise them is their own deal. And they’ll know “you told them so” without you having to say it. But this isn’t about being right – it’s about putting the client first and trying your hardest not to let “wrong” things happen. That’s what makes you the real deal and the expert.

In Defense of Being a Young Workaholic

The way I work has triggered such negative accusations as “Your job owns you!” and “You’re never not working” and “You have no life!” I’ll admit. Working throughout the morning of this last Christmas Eve did little to squelch these rumors.

LaunchSquad provided me a MacBook when I was hired and I was in nirvana. My crush on Apple’s beautiful white laptop lasted all through college and my lust was even worse for the iPhone. Both devices have become a source of acute irritation to my boyfriend because they mean one thing – I’m always connected, always able to work. Always.

Being thus equipped ends up meaning that I don’t quite have a work-life balance, adequately appropriating work to one location and time-frame and personal life to another. Work, for me, is – if I may call upon some industry jargon – cross-platform and happens in real-time. If’ I’m watching TV, I often have my computer open and on my lap, and while I’m likely not doing any writing-intensive projects, I’m still carrying out tasks, however miniscule – updating media lists, searching for coverage, maybe a bit of pitching. This can happen whenever and wherever. And it does. Here’s why it’s not bad:

  • AGILITY: I have no children and do not live with my significant other so I’m not sacrificing quality relationship time to work. I’m young enough that work doesn’t exhaust me enough yet to keep me from doing other things if they come up. When work emergencies come up, I can jump on them easily and as I am already so engaged in the accounts, I often know exactly what needs to be done.
  • RELOCATION FROM HOME: Let’s face it – after college you may have to move away to find a job. And a new city can (in my case, anyway) mean a staggered, at best, social life. Which also means I have more time to work. And I take advantage of that – it can help ease the loneliness.
  • ENERGY FOR THE WORK I DO: I love my job, my clients and my work. Not everyone is so lucky, but learning to engage in hard work, I mean HARD WORK – the kind that keeps you up and at the office at night, goes through hours and hours of revisions, endless thought-processing, and finely-tuned technical planning that strains your energy, social life, and sleep patterns – is an important lesson and career move that translates across jobs, whether they suck or shine in your life.
  • FUTURE IN MIND: I work like this so that one day I won’t have to. I work hard to eventually manage others to do the same. Look at the people who manage you – more likely than not, they’ve sacrificed a fun evening out for an all night project or two.

Again, I’ve got the idyllic situation for this kind of lifestyle and sometimes it can really suck to know that I could take a less stressful job and enjoy a much more socially-friendly personal life. I had to accept, though, that while I’m not in college anymore, I didn’t graduate to stop working hard. It’s a bit heart-stopping to realize that the morning and evening commutes and everything in between are your life now (and may bleed into other parts of your life), don’t let that stop you from tackling the challenge that our generation is so afraid to face these days – hard work.

We are so eager to be lazy, so eager to take advantage of lax work environments, to work till the bell rings – till quitting time. To leave work at work and invest in the fun life that a salary can buy. It’s an effect of an entitled generation who sees jobs and day-to-day work marginalized in the media and not worth the effort until we’re making six figures in a corner office. Sure, shoot for the stars. But understand that the groundwork for that life happens NOW because, while MTV and our culture will tell you differently, those perks are a direct result of hard work and your very best effort. The sooner the better.

Mike Rowe’s TED talk on Dirty Jobs and Work:

On Living Within Your Means as a Young Professional


Lately, I’ve been meditating on this topic and how it translates into the careerist corners of my life. In this economy, I must allow my generation to take a chunk of the blame for the credit crisis – we are, after all, not used to immediate repercussions (in any situation) and while we consider our spending habits (and lack of saving habits) normal, previous generations are appalled that we don’t save. That we earn to spend — in general. I know this is largely true for me, I’m not a huge saver.

But times like these call for penny-pinching gumption and at some point, your financial choices become a direct translation to how you are as a young professional. This isn’t a stretch — a lack of accountability to the people who loan you money (creditors, banks, er… parents) means a lack of accountability to teams, employers and clients. No bueno. I hate to immediately Debbie Downer this post, but here’s a list of some correlations that, I think, prove my point:

  • Taking risks: When you take financial risks, it’s a self-centered choice. You’re only thinking about you and how it affects you (unless you have dependents or, in my case, roommates who rely on your portion of the rent). In the professional flip-side, being a risk-taker doesn’t mean thinking outside the box. It means you’re dangerous. If you’re a risk-taker with your money and assets (and the security and freedom they provide) it means that you aren’t really looking at both possibilities for repercussions (good vs. bad) or at least not properly weighing them. While employers and clients appreciate creativity, they don’t appreciate it when you don’t think about how it affects them.
  • Overspending: Overspending doesn’t mean over-confidence. Worse. It means recklessness.
  • Borrowing too much: Like shrugging out of a mistake one time too many, you’re asking people to forgive you and give you a second chance with the same confidence they had in you before, but in the end, they’ll be unwilling to dig you out.
  • Not paying off debts: This one isn’t about consequences. You’re not being punished when you have to pay a credit card bill. The professional equivalent is doing grunt work. Not investing to earn the confidence that creditors (employers) put into you (employment) means bad credit and that future creditors won’t be too keen on giving you loans for important things like houses, cars or perhaps your own business some day.
  • Compulsive buying: This action usually leads to buyer’s remorse, and in the workplace, the equivalent leads to the same sort of gut-wrenching, “how soon can I undo this” feeling and also means that you don’t think things through, which makes you a liability.
  • Not saving: The fact of the matter is that we’re a live-in-and-for-the-now generation. Not likely to change and it doesn’t need to. But because of that, we need to embrace the responsibilities that come with it. We need to realize that there are worthier investments to go after than whatever this paycheck can fit in — like a well-earned vacation or a house — instead of buying that new pair of boots.

I’m willing to admit that a lot of this thinking is from personal experience with overspending, not saving, and risk-taking — in the worst possible ways. I had a magical childhood (as the daughter of a high school math teacher and stay-at-home mom) and played outside all the time, read a lot and used my imagination because we weren’t bought a lot of toys, movies or any video games. But being imaginative and having read a lot of books wasn’t cool in middle school — Gap, and Abercrombie & Fitch were. Later those turned into Paige Jeans, Frye boots and that lovely study-abroad stint in London (that never actually happened because I couldn’t stomach taking out an extra $10K in loans for a mere 3 months there). I look back on my life and all those times when I suddenly had money, I spent it frivolously and quickly and I still often have the urge to. Treats were special when I was young because they were unexpected. I miss that.

In any case, while I’ve made mistakes, I will say that I do not have a lot of credit card debt — the significant debt I do have is school loans, and by every definition, good debt. I attribute this nice situation to loving parents who taught me to enjoy life — not buy it.

The other reason I bring this up is that it is becoming important to employers — I recently saw an employment listing for uber-hip Portland  experiential marketing group, Henry V, who, in their ad, asked for applicants who could not only stand a demanding worklife, but also had respectable and mature financial standing. Gulp. Way to whittle that list down, Henry V.

For those out there looking for a job, don’t let your lack of financial accountability and maturity be the one thing that holds you back from a job you’re perfect for.