How did you break into the communications industry and how did you advance to where you are today?
I first gave myself the chance to get into the communications industry when I applied for the Public Relations – Corporate Communications graduate certificate program at Seneca.
I researched prior to applying and based on what I found, the best option was going to be between Seneca and Humber College. I ended up choosing Seneca because the campus was 10 km closer from where I live, each way. This was quite important both in terms of time and money saved, the time part especially because I’m also quite a few years older than many of my classmates.
The program has a co-op component, which was arguably the most important deciding factor for me. In most cases, simply having an undergraduate degree isn’t enough for someone to break into the communications industry, especially for someone like me who doesn’t have a degree in communications/journalism. I saw the co-op component as a chance to score an equalizer, and luckily for me, that’s what happened.
I ended up securing my co-op placement at Seneca, and the communications team at Seneca liked what I brought to the table, which ended up with me staying on as a part-time contract worker after my co-op ended. The part-time contract status eventually turned into a full-time permanent role earlier this year.
Did you find your education provided a helpful background when you started your career?
Most definitely. For example, I’ve always enjoyed writing in my spare time, but even with an undergraduate degree in Psychology, I had no idea how to write for communications purposes. I could write a research essay, but I had no idea how to write a media release.
It also laid the foundation as far as understanding industry jargon, e.g., the many case studies and exercises throughout my program drilled into my head the concepts of “goal”, “objective”, “strategy” and “tactic”.
As far as my place of employment is concerned, it was probably even more important, since my experience as a student at the institution serve as insights when it comes to strategizing some of the student-focused communications.
What advice do you have for a new graduate who is having difficulty finding stable employment?
It may sound counter-intuitive due to how frustrating and deflating it can be, but don’t lose your resolve, because you are not alone as far as having difficulty finding stable employment. There are many other new grads—and even those with a moderate amount of experience—who are going through the same thing, albeit with slight circumstantial variations. The job market hasn’t been kind to new grads for the past decade, and precarious work has been something affecting many different industries. Try not to get discouraged.
What skills does one need to survive in the communications industry?
Would “everything” suffice here?
I think it would be difficult to list them all, even though it goes without saying that the skills you need may vary depending on the organization you work for, e.g., whereas a more corporate structure might allow you to zero in on a few skills like writing and copy-editing, you might very well have to be an all-around specialist when you work for an agency or somewhere with a more limited budget.
My view is to try to learn as much as I can and try to improve as much as I can. It applies to writing, copy-editing, graphic design, research, social media, multimedia, marketing, knowing when/how to prioritize, etc. I realize some of the skills that I listed require other skill sets that are not taught in PR programs, and ideally should be done by professionals who have the proper training. Someone who completed a program in graphic design would likely, and understandably, create better designs than a PR grad nine times out of ten. But unfortunately, that’s what many employers look for in PR professionals.
Is work-life balance possible and how do you achieve it?
I am still working on this one, but I would like to think it’s possible, although it might be more difficult depending on your role and where you work. If you work in media relations, your expectations for work-life balance should probably be different from someone who works in internal communications. Likewise, a specialist should have a different sense of work-life balance from someone who is in a managerial position.
I am cognizant of nearly everything that has had to happen for me to have the opportunity to finally work in a profession that makes me feel fulfilled and possibly have a career that I look forward to, so it’s a constant balancing act between cherishing the opportunity and burning myself out in the process. In my case, on weekdays, because of my commute, I tend to stay at work to dodge the rush hour traffic. In doing so, I often end up doing additional work or work-related things, whether it’s managing social media via Sprout Social or watching tutorials on YouTube. My schedule is the typical 9-to-5 on most days, but it’s quite common for me to be at work from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., or even later on some days.
Fortunately, given my role at work, it’s possible for me to not check work emails when I’m not at work and not miss out on important updates. Working in social media also means I’m much more conscious of my personal social media usage. Because of how much time I spend at work, I try to do things that help bring me back to a state of equilibrium in my spare time, whether in terms of my hobbies, making time for friends or spending time with my cat, Cleo.
What do you most enjoy about working in communications?
I think the part I enjoy the most about working in communications is the opportunity to be creative in different ways, and the knowledge that what I create serves a purpose. I enjoy writing and photography, and as far as those two things are concerned, working in communications – at least as far as the roles I have had go – is perfect.
I have had the chance to interview people and create stories based on those interviews, I’m also constantly exposed to opportunities that allow me to hone my photography techniques and photo-editing skills.
My current title may say “Social Media Coordinator” but I’m not limited to only completing social media-related tasks. I really enjoy the fact that I get to showcase a range of skills for other purposes, which is exactly what I want in terms of building a career. Further, I get to receive feedback on my creative output!
How do you deal with working with a colleague who you just don’t vibe with?
I’m going to use an example from basketball here since it’s something that I would find myself thinking about whenever I had similar concerns: due to personality differences, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were never the closest of friends back when they were teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, they clashed often. However, each was great at what he did, and both put their differences aside when the game started, so despite the lack of friendship at the time, they were able to lead their team to three consecutive NBA championships.
My perspective on working with a difficult colleague is similar: we don’t necessarily have to be friends, but I’ll do my best to produce the highest quality of work, and I will help when needed. Because at the end of the day, we are both working for the same employer. If we are able to stay professional and keep our distaste for each other away from the workplace and refrain from contributing to a toxic work environment, I see the differences as understandable, even if not ideal.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or experienced on the job?
This one is tough, I have quite a few favourites!
Even though I had to be at work super early, it was very cool seeing Stella Acquisto filming her segments for Breakfast TV up-close; interviewing and photographing Patricia Jaggernauth for social media was great, her on-camera personality easily came through during our face-to-face interaction.
Since the Raptors are the NBA champions, I have to note that I also got to see the original signing document from when the Toronto Raptors were formally established, this came about when I got the chance to interview two faculty from the School of Marketing at Seneca.
When you make a mistake at work, what steps do you take to fix it?
I try to be as careful and as organized as I can be, so as to not make any serious mistakes in the first place, and it has worked so far. Of course, mistakes happen, so the first thing I tend to do is identify the issue and determine how the situation could be salvaged, and whether intervention is required from a manager, e.g., if I share a post on social and noticed that I had tagged a wrong account, I would remove the original post and then share the corrected version.
I think being accountable starts way before the correction stage following a mistake, it starts with doing your due diligence and check, double-check, and triple-check everything.
What are the best ways to stay up-to-date with industry trends?
Read—whether it’s the news, blogs or magazines. Follow reputable, industry professionals on your social media platform of choice, although given the context, it’s more than likely for said platforms to be Twitter and LinkedIn.
Depending on where you live and what your work schedule is like, if possible, consider joining your local chapter of any of the credible industry associations like the CPRS, the IABC, etc.
It’s also important to try to keep up with what’s happening outside of your industry, so that you could minimize the risk of appearing tone-deaf or ignorant on issues that might not be directly related to your industry, but could affect your industry and your organization nonetheless.
Lastly but not least, it goes without saying that one should follow Generation PR.