It Takes All Types to Be a Successful Communicator

Corporate CasualOne of the things I love about the communications profession is the fact that while walking down the street, it’s often difficult to immediately pick us out from a crowd. Let’s be honest: You can usually tell with one quick glance when someone is a real-estate agent, lawyer or an account (perhaps because each requires significant training and/or licensing in their respective professions that often gives them a bit of an aura of being . . . different from the rest of us, but I digress). But when walking down the street, you can’t really immediately pick out a communications pro. We just come in all shapes, sizes, demographics and personalities.

Oh sure, we’re typically a hyper bunch, a bit aggressive, too, and maybe a little paranoid that we’re missing out on the next big thing that we should be getting our clients or organizations into. But for the most part, as a whole, communications professionals come from vastly disparate educational and professional backgrounds, and that, to me, is what makes this business interesting.

I know terrific comms people who, in a former life, were lawyers, teachers, ad men/women and a whole slew of other vocations, and had little to no formal education and maybe even training in this business when they first got into it. And they are thriving in their current positions and loving every minute of it.

I also know people like my friend Kate, who has an amazing educational background in communications from a well-respected university that has prepared her for what is already a great career in this business. And then there’s my good buddy Jeff Esposito, who like me, came from the wide world of sports, and spent years pulling out gems of random information from hundreds of pages of stats, creating cool promotions and arguing with coaches after the 10th loss in a row to just do one interview with the media. I’ve been there, and you better believe it prepared me for what I’m doing now.

That doesn’t mean that Jeff and I are any less qualified to be great professionals in PR as anyone else, nor does it make us any better because we come from outside professions. It just makes us professionals, and I know we both have to work our asses off to make up for our lack of formal education in this business, and I think we’re both fine with that.

My point to all of this is that in this recessionary economy, when we are seeing more and more people from professions and backgrounds other than communications and PR, we shouldn’t be the profession that is so quick to jump down the throats of those who are looking for something more enjoyable and fulfilling in their careers. We should embrace this, as it means that the communications profession is a growing, vibrant and highly-respected profession.

IMO: It takes all types to be a successful communicator. Some are bold and brash. Others are quiet and reflective. And still some are a mix of the two. Each can be successful in their own way. And as long as you have a bit of wisdom, a lot of patience and a major drive, a lot of different people from various backgrounds can be successful communicators.

And that’s something we can all be proud of. So what is your background story? How did you finally become a communicator? Me? I have an undergrad degree in exercise science; a master’s in sport management and spent four years working in collegiate athletics media relations before switching over to more traditional PR.

What’s your story?

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  • Great point, Keith!

    I didn't take a single PR class until I was a senior (and then only took that one), but I was already into my second PR internship and knew PR was a potential career avenue. Now, I'm teaching and working in a high school. Next year, I hope to be able to transition from teaching to a communications role, even if it's not directly in PR.

    In all of these roles, however, communication itself has been integral to success.

    Thanks for the post (and a bit of reassurance that I'll be OK with a bit of a different path!)

    Tom O'Keefe

  • keithtrivitt

    Tom – Trust me, you will be fine, as the path you are going down (with your teaching experience and volunteer work) will serve you very well in the communications profession! I have no doubt about that. I actually think this work will help you prosper later on, as you will truly understand how to effectively communicate with many different audiences that aren't always willing to listen to you – at least on the outset. Keep at it, and great things will happen.

    Thanks for chiming in!

  • marieveebee

    Love this post Keith! Like Tom, I never took 1 PR class in my life. In fact, I ended up in public relations after doing years of radio promotions and had to figure it out for myself. I totally agree that it takes all types!

  • adamcormier

    I started when the engineering dept. at UConn suggested I try a different course of study.

    Somehow I ended up with Comms degree and made my way to Boston. Started at Weber during the dotcom days (oh what a time to be in PR).

    Left PR for financial sales, then came back to snag the single greatest position in the industry (IMHO). I work for an agency, but am on-site at the client everyday. Best part – I work with very smart people and get to talk about amazing products and services.

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  • @jaykeith

    It's interesting I think I've met more people in PR who have diverse and “non PR” backgrounds than those that do. Anyone who knows me knows that I had absolutely zero PR background prior to getting into the field (and a degree in Criminal Justice) but I think that I've done pretty well. My experience in journalism (lot of communicating), writing ability, and then just a willingness to learn from those that knew the profession better than I did were all beneficial. At the end of the day, the path you take doesn't matter, as long as you succeed in the journey. I can't imagine anyone looking down at or scoffing at anyone who wants to get into the communications business. Let's face it, it's not rocket science, but you do have to have a good foundation and set of skills that allow you to succeed. If you're willing to acquire or hone those traits, the sky is the limit.

  • Man, Keith, when you gonna blog about something I can argue about? I'm a big fan of populating the PR industry with people from lots of different backgrounds because communications isn't something that's necessarily fenced into one field; it applies to everything. And it can only HELP when a person on your team can say, oh yeah, I worked at a circus; I can talk to our new balloon-animal client. (For example.)

    I personally never took a PR/publicity/marketing/communications course until grad school. Before that, I was all about English. And suddenly everything just fell into place, because I liked to use English to get things done. And PR does that, at a very basic level, one hopes.

    This is why I think it's important that internship and other employment candidates come to the table with some background or talent or hobby that isn't necessarily their professional calling, but something they're proud of nonetheless. It shows the candidate is a well-rounded person, and those are the types of people I want to work with.

  • Tom – your experience would make you a rock star in the public relations department for a school division. we need good people and your teaching background combined with your pr background would make you a great asset to any school division!!!

  • jeffespo

    TJ, like you I kind of fell into PR after being an English major. Part of it could have been my ability to BS or the marketing folks noting that I talked too much and asked too many questions.

    When I have interviewed people for jobs both in communications and other roles I ask about past history and see how that led them from point A to point B.

  • I started off as an English major and when reading became tiresome, I switched to communications. Fell in love with the public relations side of our journalism track. Had a few sales positions right out of school and then landed a job in the PR department for a school system. The best thing that has ever happened – I was able to combine my passion for communication and my passion for children all in the same spot!

  • keithtrivitt

    Adam – Now, that is quite a career you have amassed! Kudos to you for having such a diverse background, and really experiencing everything that your skills and expertise could offer you. Impressive, too, with the agency job that lets you work on-site, directly with the client.

  • keithtrivitt

    Jay – This one line: “At the end of the day, the path you take doesn't matter, as long as you succeed in the journey,” just made my day. Simply brilliant, my man. Really great stuff. Thanks for contributing that.

    Didn't you used to work as a donut (doughnut?) maker? I thought I read/heard that somewhere …

  • Thanks, Brenda. I think that's where I would ultimately like to be!

  • Great post.. something I think most of us in PR and communications can agree fully with.

    Unlike a lot of the comments here, I knew I wanted to be in PR for as long as I can remember.. my degree is in PR from one of the top schools in the country, SI Newhouse at Syracuse University. The funny thing though is that most of my professors, teaching at this top-rated school, did not have degrees in PR. They came from a huge range of backgrounds and yet were all great experts in the field.

    I loved and respected the ability of my professors to relay their real-world experience into PR. It was so valuable as a student to see the different paths you could take in life and how they can strengthen the field of PR.

  • @jaykeith

    Yes, various side jobs have included donut maker, insurance investigator, security guard, grocery clerk, running a canteen truck, car detailer, secretary, legal clerk (basically a runner) and I even ran a small paper writing business in college, but don't tell anyone. All have gotten me where I am today, in some way, shape or form. Hahahaha.

  • I guess I was branded a communicator from the start – majored in public relations at UGA and went right into corporate communications roles after college. I stayed in corp comm for seven years but with my recent move to readMedia, I'm now doing more marketing activity and am enjoying the change and the challenge!


  • Love it, Keith! I would argue that it's BECAUSE of our diverse backgrounds and unique experience that we are rockstar communicators.

    I was a biochemistry major with a minor in business, and somehow managed to stumble PR measurement and fell in love. Weird how our lives turn out, eh?

  • keithtrivitt

    Wow! I have been absolutely floored to read everyone's tales of how they got into the communications biz. Seriously, very inspiring, and truly makes my day to see how diverse we all are in our professional, personal and education backgrounds. Really great stuff, folks, and thanks to everyone for chiming in!

  • stephmajercik

    Great post Keith!
    I also love the various backgrounds PR professionals have. Every industry needs PR professionals to get their message across and who better to do that than the people who started out in that industry. I think its how we all find our niche.

    I also knew when I started school that I wanted to be in PR, but that also led me to other paths, namely adding German and European Studies onto my major list, which still gives me a diverse background for a communications profession, although it was reached in a different way from the other stories.

  • James

    Letting people in from all different backgrounds with no prior experience devalues the PR position (and PR salaries across the board reflect this).

    I am in a hiring position and 99 out of 100 times, I'd hire (and have) someone with PR experience over someone who comes from somewhere else.

    Sure people from other professions can learn and gain experience, but they are already behind the curve and don't have many PR REAL WORLD experiences (screw the text book) to fall back on–I also HIGHLY prefer traditional PR people than those that came out of media as by and large media people are good at writing and media relations and don't have the experience of doing the countless other tasks (this is a whole other subject).

  • keithtrivitt

    Hi James – Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I certainly appreciate and respect the fact that you are in a hiring position, and that you frequently evaluate talent within our profession. That's a really terrific opportunity, as I'm sure you get to help find and procure some of the great minds and innovators that will be needed to lead the PR profession to great things in the years to come.

    I hope you understand that this post was not meant to say that we should just wily-nilly hire anyone from any background. I don't agree with that, and I don't believe any of our readers or the great commenters on here would agree with that, either. My point to this post was that what makes the communications profession such a wonderful, vibrant and fulfilling career is that unlike the banking, or finance or law industries, not all of us come from – or are required to – certain pedigree backgrounds or certain degree programs.

    It really does take all types. My friend, TJ, said it really well in one of the earlier comments that in this business, because we are always dealing with clients from various industries (yes, even as far flung as circus balloon makers), we need to have professionals who have backgrounds in professions other than just communications or public relations – but, of course, have the career experience and insight to understand the profession – that will be able to best understand the client's needs.

    So, let me ask you this: If you were hiring for a position for an account with a client that was working in say, the gourmet culinary industry, which rookie would you rather hire: Someone who came straight from a great PR education program but knows next to nothing about the culinary arts, or a seasoned professional with little PR experience, but who spent years as a freelance writer for Gourmet and some other culinary pubs and has been dabbling in PR for the last year or so?

    Me? I'd go with the latter. It may be a bit of a risk, but in the end, I think my client is going to feel a lot more comfortable knowing their is someone on his PR team who truly understands his business.

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