Laura Allen started out wanting to be a journalist. She went to Eugene Lang College in New York City, where she received a partial scholarship majoring in writing and literature. It was there that she fulfilled her parents’ dream for her of getting a college degree. She was raised in your typical working class household; her dad was a mechanic and her mom worked full-time in a factory. She excelled in English, did well in things she was interested in, but did not do well in math and science.
After graduation, she interned at Spin Magazine. She soon found that perhaps journalism was not for her and decided to try Corporate America. She worked there and absolutely hated it! Now flash forward to 9/11 in New York City.
Living in the East Village on 9/11, with the economy already sliding, the inevitable happened. “It was just one really scary and crazy day. It changed my life.”
When Laura was working in Corporate America she was very well connected and frequently received emails from friends or acquaintances looking for a job. Most of the time she could point them in the right direction. After 9/11, Laura received desperate phone calls from very smart, very capable people that needed work badly. Unfortunately, during such a trying time she could barely hold onto her own job and couldn’t find anything for these people.
The aftermath of 9/11 further contributed to the troublesome economy. “If you were in sales and marketing, do you really want to call someone up and say “Hey we’ve got this great new adware product,” when the person on the phone may have lost someone? It was a tremendously hard time to do business. Companies and people were afraid and no one wanted to spend money. They didn’t want to buy new technology and products because the economy was bad and they wanted to save.”
After that day, Laura realized that the economy was going to take a very serious turn. Soon after 9/11, with her phone ringing and email box filling up with people looking for jobs, she decided that she needed to find a way to help people find these jobs. Her philosophy was that the only way people are going to find jobs is if they learn how to market themselves. She found that the biggest problem was the way that technical professionals communicated.
“It was Siebel Server this and Oracle backend that, and they weren’t connecting with people at all. People that were making a lot of money in the dot.com days now had nothing. Some had to sell their house and move home with their parents. So if you met someone out of nowhere they couldn’t communicate effectively because they were so used to speaking in technical terms instead of personal terms.”
The tipping point for Laura came when she picked up the Sunday paper of the New York Times and pulled out their weekly magazine. On the cover was Jeff Einstein. He had a bald head and wiry glasses which gave him a techie look. The headline read: “This guy used to make $300,000. Now he’s selling khakis at the Gap.”
“Up until that point I was in a very convenient denial about my own life. I was thinking that I know myself, I can market myself, I can find a job. But Jeff’s wife was going to leave him if he didn’t find a job. Anyone that was within the technology industry or any other industry read that article and realized that this was really bad. That was the tipping point that everyone realized it was worse than they thought.”
From that point on, Laura embarked on a “spiritual quest, where money was not the most important thing, but friends and family were.” She partnered up with her friend Jim Convery and the two began developing a formula that would help people be more confident and comfortable in their communication. Their invention was the 15-second pitch, a tool used to help people market themselves more effectively.
Today, many Corporate America burnouts come to Laura asking her how they can make a career change. Laura says, “You shouldn’t spend 20 years doing something that you don’t want to do.” People’s fears and anxieties of leaving a job for a passion that they have is something that propels Laura to want to do 15-second pitch.
Here are a couple examples of clients that she has helped.
A client of hers sells real estate during the day and at night she does performance art. On the weekends she is a painter. That’s three different pitches. This client would use each pitch in its appropriate settings. When she is trying to lease a home in the Upper East Side, she would use her real estate pitch. At an art gallery, she would use her painter’s pitch.
You might be wondering why people would return to Laura once their 15-second pitch was perfected. The answer to that question is that people often have more than one talent or passion. People return to Laura to perfect each pitch, where she has created the concept, that there is a ‘pitch for every niche.’ “Most people don’t give you 2 minutes. So give your 15-second pitch. You either make an impression or you don’t.” The 15-second pitch can be the difference.
Another client is a writer for Bloomberg. She was having trouble in Laura’s workshop, where she takes 5 to15 people and teaches them how to perfect their pitch. This client did her writing pitch but afterwards was still experiencing difficulty with her professional pitch. When Laura asked what was wrong, she said that she just wanted to be a wedding planner.
This is a common theme for Laura’s work, seeing someone that is in a job that they don’t like and they would much rather be doing something else. This has also been something the PTP team has come across many times, talking to people on the trip that want to pursue their passion but aren’t sure how.
Some simple advice on how to pursue the passion is if you have your day job, and start your passion on the side. Instead of quitting cold turkey, see if you even like doing what you envision. Also be sure to check to see if it will work financially.
People also need to know what they want to do. Some clients come to Laura saying that they don’t want to do a certain thing anymore. “I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore, I’m done with that.” She looks at their resume. “Their resume usually tells me little because their past experience usually has nothing to do with what they want to do. I go through personal and professional experiences of theirs and see what we can use to help them get to where they want to go. I help them be realistic. Sometimes people come to me saying they want to make $100K working in a part-time non-profit position, maybe something with kids or the arts. There’s just no jobs like that out there. You have to go and create your own position if want to work like that.”
“People go from job to job sometimes. If you look at a resume, you can’t really tell what they were thinking going from book publishing to an ad agency to internet portal and then got involved in email marketing. That’s another way that developing a 15-second pitch helps because you have to explain that to someone when looking for a job.”
Sometimes Laura attends networking events and runs into people that are clearly unhappy with their jobs. The problem is that they aren’t willing to sell themselves. “I’m just an accountant, or I’m just a receptionist,” is what they might say. The 15-second pitch changes that. “Find that one thing that they like or are proud of in their job because you can’t sell desperation. I have had clients with an MBA from Harvard that are looking to go and get a PhD because they are afraid of getting out of the academic world. They are afraid that they will be looked at as different and not accepted as they are in their current bubble. But that is something to be proud of and you can tell people that about yourself!”
People are also constantly talking you out of your passion. “I really want to be a web designer but I can’t because there are too many web designers.” The scary part is when you tell someone that you are going to do something and then they try to talk you out of it. Everybody is a naysayer until they become doers.
For the students that need advice, here is what Laura had to say after her experiences in college and in working in Corporate America:
“Have a plan. Be realistic with money. Be realistic about student loan debt and credit cards. Be realistic with the amount of money you can make out of college, and budget your money related the kinds of items you buy.”
“I have a very strong word of caution for everyone that has graduated or is about to graduate. It goes something like this. When you are in college, people are paid to help you out. They are paid to give you advice. The minute you walk through that door of an interview for a company you are selling yourself to that company. Period. The End. I’ve had people come in to interview with me and people have asked “What can this company do for me?” No, no, no, no. “I’m really interested in expanding my horizons and learning more.” I don’t care. If I am interviewing you for Corporate America I do not care about your horizons unless they are specifically linked to you making me a ton of money or solving all of my problems. I do not care that you wind surf or ski or collect stamps. I do not care. Maybe if climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, perhaps you can work that in. People are not there to tell you about the company. They are not there to tell you about the position. Please at least know the position that you are interviewing for! You will look like an ass if you show up and you don’t know about the position. That disqualifies you, and resume goes straight in the trash. That is someone that hasn’t made the professional leap between college and the professional world. That’s what I would say.”
Please visit the website to learn more about Laura and 15-second pitch at 15secondpitch.com.