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Nearly ten years ago, I walked across the stage after being handed by diploma in Public Relations. Recently, I was back at my alma mater to talk to students in that same program about media relations and advocacy. Being back on campus, in the same room where I spent almost every day for two years, had me thinking about my career more generally and, despite the frustrations we all face in our jobs from time to time, made me realize that I truly enjoy what I do.
Why Communications Was Right for Me
The world of communications and public relations is massive. Nearly every single organization, in order to be successful, needs a communications department to help provide strategic advice, guide the voice of the organization and, in the odd time of trouble, to help an organization through the challenges it faces. All of these were enticing to me and, after being miserable for a year-and-a-half in a university program, I came to realize that communications was what I wanted to do. As a kid, I always loved reading and writing; classes in school that involved crafting arguments and writing them out were always the classes I did best in (sorry to all my math teachers). As I got older and entered my late teens, I realized that I also had an eye for strategy. I worked on local political campaigns and, despite my age, was quickly working on the strategic side of things which was fascinating to me. Mapping out a plan and how to execute it was fun. Seeing it succeed was even more fun. In a way, I guess, I always knew in the back of my mind that this was what I would end up doing.
Speaking Truth to Power
Communications is a tricky business. You have to be an expert communicator (obviously) but you also have to be a fast learner; more so than, I would argue, any other person, you have to know everything about your organization and the issues it works on. This is particularly important if you are the media relations person in your organization, because your phone can ring any minute with a reporter on the other end of the phone with questions about... well, anything.
But, more important than that, is the ability to speak truth to power. Communications professionals are the first guardians of an organization's reputation. As such, our job is to talk people off a ledge when they have a bad idea. Many times in my career, I've run into people with little understanding of optics who think that something is a good idea, or something that isn't newsworthy warrants media attention. I believe at the core of any good communicator is the ability to say "no" to whomever comes up with those ideas and yes, that sometimes means telling a CEO or other senior executive that they can't do what they want to do. That can be, in a word, challenging; but it is absolutely necessary in order for a good communicator to be credible and to protect an organization (and people!) from doing themselves more harm than good.
Ten Years On...
I still love what I do. And a big part of why is because no two days are ever the same. I can go from dealing with reporters all day one day, to planning out the editorial calendar for an organization the next day. I can spend all day in meetings (yawn), or be out doing field visits to choose an event space and sourcing vendors. There is never a dull day in communications and that, without question, is why I know I made the right career choice.