I started my career as a journalist and my weekly take-home pay for my first job came in cash – a $100 bill, a $1 bill and a 50-cent piece. This for 80 hours of chasing fires and car wrecks, transcribing obituaries and enduring town council debates on whether to buy a new snowplow (yes!). Small-town journalism isn’t glamorous but it will teach you self-reliance, how to deal with people and to get things done on time and with excellence. I once misspelled a word and my editor launched a Webster’s Dictionary at me. He didn’t miss and I didn’t misspell many more words (one note to prospective headline writers, always make sure that “public” has all its letters).
The man who handed me my pay envelope every Friday was Raymond Kennedy, a great small-town newspaperman and mentor. He taught me that as you advance through your career, you should try to bring others with you.
After my first job, things moved fast:
- Reporter at a medium-size newspaper in Albany, NY, owned by the Hearst Corporation (Rosebud!) (5 years)
- Press aide to New York governors Cuomo and Pataki (Excelsior!) (9 years)
- PR leader for GE under Jack Welch and today, head of communications for GE under Jeff Immelt (Imagine!) (12 years)
I never planned on a career in PR. But I l knew that I loved news and telling stories and that I was very competitive — all of which are essential for success in PR. My writing skills have always been a differentiator. Like PR strategy, writing is about clear thinking and the ability to simplify the complex. It is also hard, so do it a lot. And use spell check.