When I first met my cohort in my MBA program, I wondered how I fit. I was looking at start-up mavens, Big Data, business owners, “If I told you I’d have to kill you” government and military types, too many lawyers and a tiny sprinkle of C-Suiters. I have been in publishing, PR and communications for a very long time and am currently in non-profit comms—I did not see another version of myself in anyone. This fingers-crossed and uncomfortable leap into business was feeling like a misstep, a typo on my resumé. Who let me in?
I have long been a good writer for no good reason other than robust and aggressive English teachers through the years. Little did I know as I was taking my third stab at a grammar test in 8th grade that this cruel teacher was giving me a valuable skill set which enabled a great career. Words matter. How you choose to use them will dictate your success in many places because very few people are good at this. You already know this if you are PR minded. What you might not know is that there is a place for you in almost every corporation. But let’s get back to the pains of college.
The first group project I worked on required and extensive presentation and the submission of a report. The delivery was terrible: bad design, ugly PowerPoint slides and typos covered all of it. Our verbal presentation plan was also poorly formed. Enter the Communicator, the Fixer and Quick Thinker who enjoys “nerding out” on copy. I expected a good grade when I was finished polishing. I did not expect the great respect and thanks from my group of engineers and corporate types or the realization that what I considered commonplace knowledge was not. No one in my class has it.
The next class we started required another presentation counting for 40% of our final grade. Almost half of our grades will be hanging on communications skills. As I approached my new group, the lead said, “We got Elizabeth! YESSSSSSSSSS!” I now know why I am here and the value of what I am bringing to this table, particularly when one classmate jokingly says, “Me no talk big words good” to indicate that he would like some assistance with copy.
Businesses know the value of external and internal communications but often fail to staff it well. This year, however, groups like the military and companies over 500 employees have verbalized that this is the medium that they will focus growing. The Department of Labor and Statistics says, “Employment of media and communication occupations is projected to grow 6% from 2016 to 2026 … Demand for media and communication occupations is expected to arise from the need to create, edit, translate, and disseminate information through a variety of different platforms.” With the employment rate being what it is, you have sought-after skills that can be leveraged to increase pay and are valuable around the globe.
Good communicators and PR pros are also strategic thinkers and problem solvers—the Ideas People—with an understanding of social media nuances and the ability to quickly understand their audience that many business leaders often get wrong. Frankly, pros often have shinier personalities that hold sway and cannot be duplicated digitally. When a CEO asks for a newsletter, you can redirect them towards perhaps a podcast, saving time and money while increasing brand awareness and profits, all highly measurable results that CEOs love and you can influence.
I have found that in my current job search that the Chief Communications Officer title is coming back, Crisis Communications is an increasing need (particularly where I am in the DC area) and Social Media Managers and PR Pros are positions being added across many fields. PR growth is at 9% as it continues to evolve—a PRSA article in “PR Say” earlier this year showed how: “successful PR practitioners of the future must also be adept at business, content creation, environmental scanning, managing people, ethics, purpose-driven corporate social responsibility, stakeholder engagement and interpreting data and analytics.”
This finalized my faith that my degree is a great fit. While I intended to get an MBA so I could pivot, I now know that I am adding valuable tools to my toolbox that will propel me further within Communications and PR because this is not a fading art but a rocket to the moon.
Elizabeth Wrightson serves as the Assistant Director of Communications at the United States Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation.