(2) Catherine AllenIn this seven-part series, we’ll talk with Catherine Allen, Senior Vice President in our Boston office, and look in-depth at what each of the 7 core values means and how they affect our work, our clients, our employees, and our community. In this post, we look at what it means to be smart at SHIFT.

I will say that people come in here all the time and we learn that they’re not smart in the way we’re looking to be smart. They struggle to keep up, they struggle to understand the client’s messaging really quickly, learn everything about multiple clients quickly and keep them separate, but work different stories together. They will need to look at something right away and make fast judgements about whether it’s good or bad, whether it needs tweaking… being able to analyze things quickly, being able to learn things quickly, being a natural student and wanting to learn more all the time. The people who do really well at SHIFT are all of these things. They’re naturally curious.

In some ways, smart isn’t actually the best word to describe what we’re looking for. Smart in this sense describes mental agility more than anything else. It’s not smart in classical intelligence and book learning by itself. It’s not necessarily being good at math and science, for example. There are a lot of folks here who can’t balance a checkbook with double-entry bookkeeping, for example. There are many people who don’t have a good understanding necessarily of English literature or United States pre-Reconstruction history, or particle physics. It’s more the ability to have your mind be quick, be able to turn on a dime, be able to jump from topic to topic, from problem to problem, to make connections among the things and people they know, and not miss a beat.

Smart isn’t just book-smart, it’s street-smart. We need a balance of both in people. The people who have a classical research or academic background tend to move more slowly but are more thorough; they might not be the best people for new business pitches where exceptional agility is required, but they might be perfect for a client whose campaigns require a level of depth that goes beyond just surface quotes. Book-smart does matter – after all, we’re writing to and pitching to people who write for a living, who create content for a living, and in order to catch their attention, your material has to be smart enough and insightful enough to be worth their time. Smart means being people-smart. We need people to understand the clients they’re working with, the media they’re working with, and know what’s going to go big, what audiences will appreciate and want to share.

One of the most valuable skills is to be able to take a nugget of an idea and blow it up into an entire campaign, sort of inductive reasoning for PR. That’s a certain way of thinking that we look for, part of that idea of mental agility. You get just a few scraps of information from a client and you can synthesize entire projects, entire campaigns, from just those tidbits. We can’t and don’t ask clients to hand us everything on a plate. They wouldn’t need us! Instead, we have to take whatever is available and turn that into something big.

Take small things and make them big, take separate things and connect them, take slow-moving things and make them go fast… that’s the kind of smart we try to be at SHIFT.

Catherine H. Allen
Executive Vice President

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