James S. O’Rourke, IV, Ph.D.
I developed a really keen interest in communication as a kid. I hung around radio stations in my hometown (my father was an advertiser, so they were nice to me) and, by the time I was a sophomore in college, I passed the FCC licensing exam and went to work at KGHL-AM in Billings, Montana. It was wonderful: exhilarating, exciting, frightening, and really rewarding.
That job gave me the opportunity to work the board (the control console in the master studio), edit programming, gather and write news, and broadcast news live on the air. By the time I was a senior in college, I was working during summers for a local television station (KOOK-TV/Channel 2) and sitting for two weekend shifts in AM radio. All of that led to an offer to write a periodic column for my hometown paper, The Billings Gazette.
As an undergraduate, I studied Management, but as a graduate student, I pursued communication, hoping to make my fame and fortune in broadcasting. That’s not exactly how it worked out. Once I had earned a master’s degree, I went on active duty in the Air Force and, following a tour in Public Affairs (and aerial photography), I was assigned to command an American Forces Radio & Television station in northern Canada. That would be the last on-air job in a long and interesting career in communication, though.
A second master’s degree and a doctorate in Public Communication from the Newhouse School at Syracuse led me to an academic career, beginning at the U.S. Air Force Academy and continuing through the Defense Information School and the U.S. Air War College, where I helped get future commanders ready for their debut in prime time.
After twenty years in the Air Force, I was offered the opportunity to build a Center for Business Communication at the University of Notre Dame (my undergraduate alma mater). In the 21 years I’ve been at Notre Dame, I’ve gone from working alone, teaching two sections of Business Communication to an endowed center, an endowed chair, three wonderful colleagues, 28 sections of Writing, Speaking, Negotiation, Persuasion, Conflict Management, Intercultural Communication, and Corporate Communication across four degree programs. And, in some small way, my colleagues and I hope we’ve contributed something to the #1 ranking for Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business from Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
My real interests now are case writing, textbook publishing, classroom innovation, and the work of my colleagues and friends in the Arthur W. Page Society, the Management Communication Association, and the Reputation Institute.
My advice to aspiring communicators is brief and fairly simple:
- Get as much formal education as you can. If you want to work in Corporate Communication, don’t limit yourself to journalism, PR, or communication courses and degrees. Study business, figure out how companies make money, and learn how to read a balance sheet.
- Ask for and accept as much responsibility as your employer will permit. Try out new challenges, welcome new opportunities. Meet and work with as many different people as you possibly can. You won’t like all of it, but every experience will be valuable.
- Stay curious. Read at least three good newspapers a day, several business-related magazines a week, and more specialized journals and publications each month. Read at least a few good blogs each week. You learn to be a good writer by reading good writing. Read outside of your chosen areas of expertise. New information tells you something about the direction and velocity of the businesses you’re working with and will help keep you current and useful to your employer.
- Stay humble. When a photographer shows up to capture images for your client, quietly step out of the frame. Focus the spotlight on your clients, your employees, the ideas you’ve been hired to write and think about. This isn’t about you. Your employer, by the way, will notice and appreciate a self-effacing approach to this profession.