If you have ever wanted to know more about the different types of public relations careers straight from professionals in each area, the PRSA Sections Series is here to help. The PRSA Sections Series highlights the 14 different PRSA public relations professional interest sections. Each month, two professionals will sound off on their specific sub-category of the industry in a question and answer session.
Our third post in the sections series was compiled by Sandra Knight, APR, (see bio below) and focuses on Corporate Communications.
1. What kind of work do professionals in your section typically do?
For those in the corporate communications section, the responsibilities can be very broad and includes internal and external communications.
“Internal communications can include writing and planning internal newsletters or other communications vehicles, as well as executive communications to help manage a CEO’s or other C-suite leader’s communications strategy and positioning her/him as a thought leader,” said Dina Silver Pokedoff, APR, senior manager of brand and communication at Saint-Gobain Corporation.
On the external communications side, activities can include branding, reputation management/crisis communications, public affairs/lobbying support, media relations, video production and social media management.
“Depending on the organization and the level of the position, the communicator’s role can be very specific, or extremely wide-ranging,” Pokedoff said. Meghan Gross, APR, founder, Gem Strategic Communications, agreed.
“It varies. On any given day we can be writing strategic plans, developing proactive strategies to enhance reputation or responding to a crisis,” Gross reported.
2. What can students expect when pursuing an entry-level position in the industry?
According to Gross, entry level public relations jobs can be diverse and exciting.
“Companies shift strategies and tactics quickly, so entry-level team members should be prepared to be flexible in their approach. Most people in their 20’s are far more sophisticated in their use of social media and in their ability to spot trends and adapt them for use in campaigns, so they should be prepared to speak up when they have a good idea,” Gross advised.
Pokedoff added, “Don’t be afraid to start your career in a highly specialized role like social, as it has the foundation for you to grow and work on strategy, planning and execution.”
3. What advice do you have for students looking to enter your sector of public relations?
Building a network is important for students interested in entering corporate communications.
“Seek out people you want to know for their skill sets, their geographic location and their experience and keep in touch with them throughout your career,” Gross recommended. “Everyone you meet along the way will be a potential sounding board, advisor, peer or boss.”
Pokedoff strongly suggested that students be open to experiences in organizations that may not appear to be “sexy” at first.
“Working in a manufacturing environment, as I do, is rich with interesting communications opportunities, challenges and experiences,” Pokedoff said.
Sarah Huddle, APR, Partner, Albright Group, advised students to be willing to learn, open-minded and have a fire in their belly for the profession.
“When I conduct interviews for entry-level positions, I want to see an absolute passion to learn and do,” Huddle said. “I can teach skills, but I cannot teach initiative or a desire to learn or grow.”
4. What essential skills do students need to do well in the industry?
Excellent writing and organizational skills, ability to quickly grasp new subject matter and being absolutely unhesitant to turn on a dime as priorities change are essential skills for corporate communicators.
“The number one thing I look for is excellent writing skills,” says Julia Reusch, communications manager at Allstate. “I don’t have time to teach someone how to write, and it’s critical to what we do. I also look for the ability to juggle and handle stress with a positive attitude.”
Huddle, agreed. “You must love to write and be very good at it. Without strong, persuasive writing skills, you are lost. Additionally, you must be articulate and organized, and have a sense of what people need or want to in order to change their behaviors or mindset,” she explained.
5. What has surprised you most throughout the course of your career?
“My own career path!” Huddle laughed. “It has taken many twists and turns, but each experience has built upon the other and contributed to my career and the professional I am today.”
The following are all members of the Executive Committee of PRSA’s Corporate Communications Section:
Sandra Knight, APR, is the corporate public relations director at SmithGroupJJR, one of the nation’s largest architecture, engineering and planning firms. Knight, who brought a background in media and agency public relations to her role as a corporate communicator, leads the corporation’s external communication efforts while working closely with corporate, practice and office leadership. She is also the Chair-Elect of the Executive Committee for the Corporate Communications Section.
Dina Silver Pokedoff, APR, is the senior manager of brand and communication at Saint-Gobain Corporation, a world leader in the design, manufacture and distribution of high performance and building materials. An award-winning communications professional for over 20 years, she’s executed public relations programs for Lehigh University, Waste Management, ING Direct, ARAMARK and Sprint PCS.
Meghan Gross is a corporate communications practitioner with nearly 25 years of experience and founder of Gem Strategic Communications, which develops and implements multi-stakeholder communication strategies designed to advance and protect organization reputation. She works primarily in the professional services and energy sectors and is currently on the board of the PRSA Tri-State District.
Julia Reusch is the communications manager for Allstate’s Northeast Region and oversees all internal and external issues management, as well as executive support for the seven states that comprise the region. Prior to making the switch to communications four years ago, she worked in television for 10 years as a director for reality shows for Animal Planet, and also worked as a sports and news producer.
Sarah Huddle, APR, is the founding partner of the Albright Group LLC, a strategic communications and leadership consulting firm. With 26 years of experience in corporate communications, she specializes in leadership counseling, issues and crisis management and branding. Her current clients include AGL, Delta Dental of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and Anheuser-Busch.