PRSA Portland Metro Chapter

Career Tips from Portland PR Pros

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Apr 15

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The April issue of Public Relations Tactics is centered on career development. We asked seasoned PRSA Portland Metro members from varied industries about their career path and how the chapter benefits career development. Here’s what they have to say:

Stacy Moe-Kean, APR

Stacy Kean, APR
Communications Director
Union Gospel Mission
@smoekean

What’s your advice to a new pro about how PRSA can benefit their career?

It is a great way to grow professionally. I think the chapter does a great job in programming for professional development. I’ve also made some wonderful friends. The Portland chapter is very friendly, encouraging and collaborative. If you’re an active participant you will hear about jobs, but that’s a side benefit when you consider you will be spending time with great, smart people!

Did you always envision a career in public relations?

No. I envisioned being a crusading for justice type journalist. I saw “All The President’s Men” as a little kid, and when I got older I found out it was based on real life, and lead to President Nixon’s resignation. I got sidetracked in college because I fell in love with studying history and changed my major. However, I did a public relations internship with the city of Eugene and saw that public relations is a career path that I could pursue. Public relations is about storytelling, which is what makes it such a great job. My career has been in nonprofit organizations, the last 14 years at Union Gospel Mission, and that has fulfilled the idealistic side of my career ambitions.

What drew you to PR?

I enjoyed writing and I’ve always been intrigued by what persuades people to action. I love history, and there are many stories about dedicated, passionate people who change things by communicating! I did a PR internship with the city of Eugene and I wrote a press release that became a story in the Register Guard newspaper, and then I was hooked. I thought this is it.

If you could give yourself one piece of advice early on in your career, what would it be?

Not to worry so much, and to take advantage of every learning opportunity. Even with the stuff that goes wrong. Rather than worry about it, what can be learned? What can be changed? Look at your obstacles as opportunity. That sounds trite, but it’s a great PR skill. A lot of PR is creative problem solving.

What was the turning point in your career?

I don’t know that I have hit a turning point. I just really enjoy public relations. I’ve been doing it for a fairly long time, but I’m still super excited about it because it’s always changing. There is always something new to learn. To have work that I enjoy is just a huge blessing to me.

Mark Mohammadpour, APR

Mark Mohammadpour, APR

Mark Mohammadpour, APR
Senior Communications Strategist
PRSA Portland Metro President Elect
@MarkMoh

What’s your advice to a new pro about how PRSA can benefit their career?

No matter where you’re at in your career, there’s always an
opportunity to learn something new. Whether that’s a particular skill
like media relations or investor relations, or a way to meet new
people who can help with your career, PRSA is a great resource for
learning about our industry. Our member directory is an incredible
resource for our PRSA members. Reach out to people who are doing the kinds of things you want to try one day, or grab coffee with a peer
from another company to get a sense of how their career is going.

Did you always envision a career in public relations?

Since my freshman year at University of Portland, I had a feeling that
a career in public relations was my calling! I read a lot about the
industry and learned there are so many great facets. I learned I could
write, build relationships with the media, be a part of important
business decisions and work with a team. Those were all critical
factors that drew me in from the beginning.

What drew you to PR?

It’s the same after all these years. Once I was a part of college
internships, I quickly learned that no two days are ever the same. And
nothing has changed! You’re never bored and you’re always pushed to
think about solving problems in different ways.

As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve continued to see how important our
industry is to businesses and organizations. Because reputations can
be impacted in a split-second, we are the ones that help executives
learn about the importance of a sound communications strategy and
building relationships with its internal and external publics.

If you could give yourself one piece of advice early on in your
career, what would it be?

Ask questions and for feedback. Ask a lot of questions to your peers,
your supervisors, anyone who can help put things into context. Never
be afraid to ask why something is done a certain way, or why a
decision was made. Ask for feedback on a project you worked on and get specifics that will help you (and your employer!) for future projects.

What was the turning point in your career?

Early in my career, I worked with a reporter from The New York Times
on a piece for one of our clients. I’ll never forget racing to Starbucks early one Thursday morning to see if the story was in print. And, sure enough, there it was. To see something tangible, in print, is something that you never forget. Right then and there, I knew that this was my calling.

Ann Smith

Ann Smith

Ann Smith
Founder & President
A.Wordsmith
@Awordsmith

What’s your advice to a new pro about how PRSA can benefit their career?

PRSA is a great way for new professionals to gain insight into the public relations field and to establish connections with peers, employers and industry experts. The hands-on experiences offered by PRSA allow new professionals to really get involved and learn the ins and outs of the industry. This business comes down to who you know, and getting connected through PRSA is a natural way to forge those relationships early on – you never know where they might take you!

Did you always envision a career in public relations?

Like many in this neck of the woods, I am a graduate of the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon and it was during my time there that I honed my focus in on public relations. I have always loved to write which is what led me to study journalism (that and my passion for Track Town USA) and once I was introduced to PR, I was hooked. Even as a student I was intrigued by how multi-faceted PR appeared to be and after working in the industry for 15 years, I can attest that no client, day or pitch is ever the same. It keeps us on our toes and I love that.

What drew you to PR?

What I love about PR is that it’s one industry that requires you to not only be able to communicate well – both verbally and in writing –but you also have to successfully connect and engage with people to the point of influencing their decision making. Public relations is a relationship business. But at the same time, you can’t just get by on being a “people person” – you have to back that up with excellent strategic thinking and communication skills.

If you could give yourself one piece of advice early on in your career, what would it be?

Slow down and soak it up. Make the most of the early part of your career and learn as much as possible from all of the smart people around you. No one expects you to be an expert when you’re just starting out – they’d rather you be eager, willing and excited to tackle new challenges. And even when you think you’re as smart as them, you aren’t – keep learning, doing and stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone.

What was the turning point in your career?

The turning point in my career actually came in 2009 when I was laid off from an internal marketing manager role at a professional services firm that was feeling the impact of the economic downfall. I was very pregnant at the time and not exactly marketable in the job hunt. What could have been a really difficult time actually resulted in the creation of A.wordsmith and where I am today. Without being forced into that situation, I probably never would have taken the leap of faith to start my own firm. Lemonade was certainly made of lemons that day.

 

Dave Thompson, APR

Dave Thompson, APR

Dave Thompson, APR
Public Affairs Manager
Oregon Department of Transportation
PRSA Portland Metro Vice President, Member Relations / Chief Relationship Officer
@DaveT51

What’s your advice to a new pro about how PRSA can benefit their career?

Nobody knows everything; no one can keep up with this changing industry alone. Continual professional development is a requirement for your survival. In other words, school is never out! So make the most of it. PRSA is a group of professional communicators who realize we need each other to remain relevant.

But it takes effort. Not much will happen if you join, but don’t participate. So as former chapter president Barbara Kerr is famous for repeating: “Don’t just join; join in.”

The more you’re willing to put in, the more you’ll get out of your membership. Volunteer. Join the board. Ask for—or be—a mentor. Attend the professional development luncheons and networking events. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn, grow, and enjoy.

I call it career crowd-sourcing.

Did you always envision a career in public relations?

No! I was a math major, and then went on to earn a graduate degree in computer science. PR, speaking, writing: They were the furthest things from my mind. But after I was working in the field of computer science at a research institute, I realized I needed more people in my life. So I volunteered at a local radio station, caught the bug, and—long story shortened considerably—I became a broadcast journalist.

Fast forward 20 years, five radio and TV stations all across the U.S., and thousands of interviews and newscasts. I took my first job in public relations as a director of communications for a pre-IPO angel-invested startup. That job was the most fun I’ve had. (Until it ended rather abruptly.) It was also an amazing learning crucible for me, discovering the difference between media relations and public relations. I had several important mentors who guided me. And it eventually led me to earn my APR, to fill the many education gaps the job helped me identify.

What drew you to PR?

See above!

If you could give yourself one piece of advice early on in your career, what would it be?

Obtain your APR as soon as you’re able—usually after five years in the industry. My career changed considerably after I earned my accreditation. The learning process made an immediate difference in how I do my job. Secondly, I wish I had obtained an MBA or Masters in Strategic Communications.

What was the turning point in your career?

There’s no such thing as a single turning point! Don’t assume your career will be linear. It will continually have its ups and downs, its highs and lows. Your reaction to good or bad developments—your ability to know when to bounce, or go with the flow, or look for new opportunities—will define how you survive each ‘turning point.’

If that sounds like really bad news, then consider: Knowing this, you can plan!

One of your most important survival traits will be your ability to collaborate on a team. Your team peer or direct report could be your boss tomorrow; or you could be hers.

Don’t burn bridges; react to positive turns and negative turns professionally. Maintain your sense of calm and your dignity.

And remember: Like life itself, your career path isn’t exclusively about the ultimate destination, but about the journey. Make it a fun trip!

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