Choosing Your Own Career Path: Mentees Explore the PR Industry

November 24, 2016
Joanna Williams

The CPRS Hamilton mentorship program held a communications career discussion on Nov. 3, 2016 at Burlington City Hall. The event’s goal was to create awareness about the different practice areas in the field of communications to help mentees determine their areas of interest and possible career paths.

This event allowed mentors to share highlights of their roles and personal experiences from an industry perspective. PR students and new practitioners had the opportunity to find out what working in different sectors is like, key skill sets needed to succeed, and to discover more about the day-to-day realities of senior communications professionals.

Mentors David Rowney (left) and Rick Mauro (right) discuss their experiences in the corporate sector.

Seasoned practitioners and mentors led informal roundtable discussions based on questions submitted by mentees. The mentors’ different areas of practice included: Corporate (Rick Mauro and David Rowney), Government (Janine Ivings), Education (Susan Emigh) and Agency/Freelance (Gordon Neufeld).

After a short introduction, mentors gave a brief explanation of what they do and offered one word to summarize PR.

Janine Ivings: Flexibility

After working in municipal government for 16 years, Janine explains it’s important to balance work, life, and project priorities. Her small communications team of two means being both a strategist and tactician.

David Rowney: Educational

There is always something new to learn in a corporate environment. David has experience working in both small and large departments, and he looks for opportunities to learn new things. He has recently learned how to create videos.

Susan Emigh: Dynamic

Mentor Gordon Neufeld (left) discuses his professional experiences from the agency/freelance perspective.

Susan has a background in journalism and has worked for McMaster University for 14 years. Her role at McMaster is changing all the time and they have a wide range of exciting news because of their medical school and world-class research teams.

Gordon Neufeld: Curiosity

Gordon feels the primary criteria for being in the PR business is curiosity, and the desire to want to find out about everything.

Rick Mauro: Evolving(yet staying the same)

Rick says business and the way we’re communicating is evolving, however, we still need to think strategically about what is the most effective message. Although it’s simple and cost-effective to communicate digitally, he stresses not to let the tool get in the way of the message.

Roundtable Discussions

During the open discussions, mentees had an opportunity to ask questions of mentors. Here are a few highlights and tips for new practitioners:

What skill sets are required to be a PR professional?

  • Writing is fundamental
  • Social media is important and is an expectation of the younger generation
  • Strong knowledge of a particular industry and the world around you
  • Be a team player
  • As a communicator, you need to be able to work and connect with people
  • A positive attitude and willingness to learn new things can demonstrate your value to an organization

Be a life-long learner

  • Read newspapers and industry blogs
  • Sign up for weekly PR and social media news tips
  • Step out of your industry – get a broad view of what’s on the horizon
  • Network to connect with colleagues around best practices
  • Participate in professional development activities to increase skills in different areas
  • Gordon suggests clients buy a book they have never read before and then encourages them to think about their business in a different way. What are the commonalities? What did you learn?

Write the right content

  • To have an effective content management strategy, you need to understand what people want
  • Add value and be helpful
  • Provide how-to articles of interest to customers instead of pushing out key messages you want to get across
  • Tangerine and Pepsi do a good job on content management
  • PR is becoming more sponsored content with paid bloggers and promoted posts
  • It’s interesting to note in the Edelman Trust Barometer the trust factor of social media is going down due to the rise of more sponsored content

The corporate perspective

  • Rick prefers the less layers and bureaucracy in a corporate environment because he can get more things done
  • There may be good opportunities for young practitioners to grow professionally in smaller organizations that are expanding
  • Dave’s advice: Find a company with a good corporate culture that is quickly growing, and then ride that wave because they will be doing great things

PR skills needed in the educational sector

  • Writing skills and the ability to transform technical and scientific information to understandable language is very important
  • Professionals need to know what’s newsworthy, be good storytellers, and be strategic thinkers
  • Susan’s advice: Gain a variety of experience in different sectors, especially early on in your career
  • Try new things, gain life experience, and apply your skills to all areas of PR practice

Roxanne Torbiak was unable to attend the event, but answered questions about healthcare PR via email.

What challenges do you face interpreting medical information and communicating it to the general public?

  • The single biggest challenge is ensuring that a clear message is conveyed
  • This often means working with a healthcare professional to explain the information using easy to understand wording
  • Sharing real patient stories, using relatable analogies and/or graphics are the best ways to share a complex story

PR skills needed in the health care sector

  • In addition to writing and strategic planning, health care communicators need to have excellent emotional intelligence, especially the ability to work positively with a wide range of people with a wide variety of personality and leadership styles
  • Resourcefulness, the ability to work as part of a team, resilience to change and having the ability to be calm and rational in a crisis situation are especially important