As a kid, I was hooked on radio. While in college, I worked in commercial radio (getting up every day at 3:30 to do a morning show just as most of my fraternity brothers were going to bed) and assumed that eventually, I’d end up owning radio stations. But time in the Air Force as a Public Affairs Officer opened up another avenue for me to consider. It was fun, I was engaged with the leadership of the organization, and I was pretty good at it. Although I went back to radio for a short period after the Air Force, I knew that I could do more…and make more of a difference in the world…in public relations. I was able to land a job with a small operating division of a large telecommunications company and in the process, found exactly what I was looking for. I’ve never regretted a moment.
A few things I’ve learned. Don’t be afraid of going to work for a company that is facing a difficult situation. If there is a crisis there is opportunity. Seize it and you’ll have the rewarding experience of helping lead a company from darkness to light. Be a generalist for as long as you can. Anyone who reaches a senior level in corporate PR has done a lot of different stuff. Believe in the company or client you work for and what they do. If you can’t, leave. Don’t ever forget that it’s all about relationships. Relationships open doors and create reservoirs of goodwill. And help others with their careers just as someone helped you.
Here is my career snapshot:
- Public Affairs Officer and Squadron Commander, USAF (2+ years)
- Management positions at various radio stations (3 years)
- Division Public Affairs Manager, General Telephone Co of the Southeast (5 years)
- It had just been discovered that division management had been falsifying documents. Yikes! I was the only PR person in the division and had to learn fast. It was a great way to start a PR career.
- Director – Communications Planning, Carolina Power & Light Co. (4 years)
- This was the ultimate generalist job. Everything from speechwriting to grassroots. Whatever “special project” the CEO had in mind, it was mine to do.
- Manager-Media Relations, Carolina Power & Light Co. (2 years) – Manager-Media and Employee Communications, Carolina Power & Light Co. (2 years)
- Vice President-Corporate Communications, Carolina Power & Light Co. (7 years)
- Got fired when the company brought in a new CEO who wanted his own team in place. Guess what? It’s not the end of the world and everyone should probably have the experience at least once. Relationships and networks in the profession can really help get you through it. Build them.
- Vice President-Corporate Communications, Wisconsin Energy Corp. (10 years) – Came here when the company’s reputation was at an all time low. Wisconsin had experienced brownouts the previous summer, the company had to call off a planned merger, and the media and some shareholders were calling for the ouster of the CEO. Sounded like a good opportunity to me.