Seven industry veterans look back at the lessons they learned from their very first days in the PR field.
Organization: Time Warner
Title: EVP, corporate communications
Location: New York
Years in PR: 20
Ed Adler began his career as a journalist and moved into media relations for Time Inc. Soon after, he realized PR's increasing role in corporate America.
"I was doing mostly magazine publicity," he says. "It wasn't something I wanted [as] a career. Then Time merged with Warner and the global media conglomerate was invented. Companies were making acquisitions and becoming more scrutinized. Media was growing.
"Cable was becoming 24 hours, business news channels were starting," Adler continues. "I realized there was going to be burgeoning demand for companies to navigate media. PR had an important strategic role to play and that made me take notice as to what I could do to advance my career. I felt there was a gap there."
Adaptability helped Adler excel as the landscape changed, and it has continued to serve him today.
"You can't rely on one way of doing things," he says. "Time Inc. wanted to apply previous tactics to the new company and it didn't work. I've been able to adapt as the company and world changed. You learn by observing... the good and bad traits of bosses and colleagues, so that you know what and what not to emulate."
Adler notes that it's important to learn all aspects of communications, present new ideas in a non-threatening way, and to learn from critics and supporters.
"I had people who thought I'd never succeed," he notes. "I figured out why they thought that and how to change it. You must keep proving yourself. There's not one way, one personality, or one skill set that succeeds. Know who you are and what works for you."
3 Keys to success
1. Build strong relationships at all levels of your organization and with the media
2. Stay current with industry, media, and world changes
3. Work hard and do everything you're asked
EVP, corporate comms, Time Warner
SVP, corporate comms, Time Warner
VP, corporate comms, Time Warner
Director, media relations, Time Warner
Manager, media relations, Time Inc.
Company: Hill & Knowlton
Title: US chairman and worldwide director, marketing communications
Location: New York
Years in PR: 26
MaryLee Sachs learned the value of networking and relationships early in her career. In fact, networking via the PRSA for two years before she graduated led to her first PR job at The Gable Agency. She says she also learned that "going above and beyond" is sometimes necessary, and both tenets have served her throughout her career.
"It's important to stretch yourself and go for it," she adds. "Persistence pays off. I really wanted to go to London, so I quit my job and went without [one]. I saw [about] 25 different agencies. If you really want something, you can get it if you set your mind to it. Sometimes to excel you have to put in the extra effort."
Sachs advises junior PR pros to speak up about their ideas and have strength in their convictions.
"Young people sometimes don't contribute, [but] I know they have something [to add]," she says. "I think they're afraid. The more they do it, the better they become at it.
"I [used to] fear presenting," Sachs recalls, "so I started teaching as an adjunct professor at Syracuse University in London. Speaking in front of students every week got me much more relaxed. As you move through your career, you have to present more formally more often."
As her career has progressed, Sachs has also learned the importance of getting to know yourself and of trusting intuition. "Know [your strengths], weaknesses, and what ignites your passion," she advises. "If you have passion, you'll do your job better, enjoy it more, and have more energy."
3 Keys to success
1. Network and build relationships
2. Go above and beyond when necessary
3. Speak up and have strength in your convictions
H&K. Presently is US chairman, worldwide director, marcomms (since 2005). Prior, she held top roles in the US and London
Board director, head of UK marcomms, Fleishman-Hillard (London)
H&K, London, various roles
Account supervisor, Cochrane Chase, Livingston & Co. (Newport Beach, CA)
Title: Director, global issues management
Location: Beaverton, OR
Years in PR: 21
In the late 1980s, Vada Manager was the youngest member of Gov. Bruce Babbitt's (D-AZ) staff, and he went on to work on Babbitt's presidential bid.
"Going with a smaller operation - whether it's a campaign or a company - can be an extremely valuable learning opportunity," says Manager, who in 2006 was elevated to Nike's corporate leadership team, indicating status as one of the top 100 leaders in the company. "On a small campaign, I was given more responsibility and I got to interact with very senior people in media and in the policy world. You learn quickly. There's a lot of knowledge and experience to be passed down from [senior colleagues]. Learn to calibrate and integrate fresh energy and youthful perspective with senior staff members. That's key."
Manager also learned to play to his strengths and work on weaknesses. "Be cognizant of your personal brand," he suggests. "Stake out unique ground. I realized I had relationships and perspectives that some senior members didn't have. I [offered my views] in a contributory way, as opposed to beating them over the head. I was also a voracious reader. I'd get up an hour early to read print media so I was equipped."
Manager developed relationships that he still has today. He also believes teamwork is critical to success in all endeavors. At a recent launch of a new Nike uniform kit for the USA basketball team, he helped haul boxes and set up a media operations room.
"Take an attitude that no task is beneath you," he advises, adding that a wide range of experiences can inspire PR pros at any level "to innovate beyond industry standards."
3 Keys to success
1. Be a good teammate and soak up knowledge
2. Treat people fairly and honestly
3. Be humble and stay true to your values
Nike, various roles. Currently, he is director of global issues management
Senior manager, global comms, Levi Strauss & Co.
VP, Powell Tate (DC)
Press sec./adviser, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly's office (DC)
Press secretary/ adviser, office of Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford (Phoenix)
Title: President and CEO
Years in PR: 34
Before starting in the PR agency business when he was in his mid-30s, Fred Cook traveled the world and held a number of different jobs. He worked on a tanker, sold leather goods in Florence, Italy, and did stints as both a tour guide and a schoolteacher.
"Having such a broad base of experience gave me a breadth of life experience," Cook explains. "It's proved to be a very valuable asset for me. Because I spent so much of my time doing so many different kinds of things, I have lots of ideas."
Almost all of the interns Cook meets get PR jobs right out school, and he advises them to get life experience.
"They come to us with a rather homogenous kind of experience," Cook notes. "PR is a business of ideas. Creativity is a huge asset. If you bring the same background as everybody else, it's harder to add the unique aspect of your own perspective and approach."
Cook recognizes that not everyone has the luxury and/or desire to travel as he did, but he suggests that knowledge and experience can be expanded in a number of ways. "Get a flavor for what other people are doing in life that might be different from you," he adds. "Read about tattoos or motorcycles, video games or wrestling.
"We have a big opportunity to bring clients and partners ideas - to reach consumers, to talk to employees, to position business strategy," Cook says. "We have to be more bold in our thinking and ad-venturesome in what we're willing to try and do."
3 Keys to success
1. Explore and try new things
2. Get as much life experience as you can
3. Don't be afraid to be bold; don't be afraid to be different
Various roles at GolinHarris. He now serves as president and CEO
Daniel J. Edelman, (LA). Supervised major programs for clients like KFC and Honda motorcycles
President, Fred Cook Communications (Los Angeles)
Marketing director, Bar-B-Q Records (Bloomington, IN)
Organization: Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Title: MD of marketing communications
Years in PR: 11
Emily Callahan got her first break at a small-town newspaper in Oklahoma when she was 18 years old. She had planned on fetching coffee, but when two reporters left suddenly on her first day, Callahan landed a reporting job.
"The more I was willing to do and the more great work [I turned in], the more I got to write," she says.
Callahan went on to intern at Edelman, and the agency hired her as an AE straight out of college. Both jobs taught her about the importance of seeing every situation - even the negative ones - as a learning opportunity.
"I once got berated when getting feedback on edits," Callahan recalls. "I took the point - I pay attention to detail - but I swore I would never ever speak to someone like that in a management situation.
"I also learned that doing great work gets you noticed above all else," she adds. "Aim to execute flawlessly on every task, [then] everything else comes."
The value of relationships - with colleagues at every level - also became evident at Edelman. Callahan often asked people to lunch or for quick meetings to discuss their careers.
"I've built my career by being inquisitive," she explains. "That's how you grow. I moved from an agency where I didn't have anything to do with healthcare [to my current job], but I had experiences that I could apply [at Komen]. You can learn anything. Working at an agency taught me to think quickly and on my feet. It's hard to teach, but very doable."
3 Keys to success
1. Act like a sponge. Every situation is a chance to learn, even if it's what not to do
2. Make relationships at all levels
3. Aim for flawless execution on all assignments, big or small
MD, marcomms, Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Account supervisor, Edelman (Dallas). (Started as an AE; quickly rose to SAE, then supervisor)
Mktg. asst., Heart O' Texas Fair Complex
Jan. 1997-May 1998
Sports info. officer, Baylor Univ. Athletics media relations dept.
Reporter, The Duncan (OK) Banner
Company: State Farm Insurance
Title: VP, public affairs
Location: Bloomington, IL
Years in PR: 28
At 23 years old, Mike Fernandez was a press secretary for Sen. Ernest F. ("Fritz") Hollings (D-SC). He says he was probably the youngest Senate press secretary and the only Hispanic one. The job taught him about the power of being in the right place at the right time and of not being afraid to ask questions. Politics also taught him that opponents will define you if you don't define yourself.
"Later I was involved with labor negotiation with US West," he recalls. "The normal response from companies that were involved in labor negotiation was [not to] talk to media. Meanwhile the unions [were doing] public positioning around what they needed. Because of that learning in politics, we were more aggressive in telling our story. I think that was helpful.
"You live and die by how you communicate," adds Fernandez, noting another key lesson he learned in politics. "Whatever you say or do doesn't matter unless it sustains or alters something that's vital."
Fernandez advises young people to embrace learning and information above all else.
"If you better understand the competition and yourself, you'll go a long way," he says.
"PR isn't for the meek and mild. After you've gained knowledge, don't be afraid to use it. Be strategic, but in discussions have a viewpoint, even though you may be young. I see a lot of young people step back. Or the opposite - they never step back even in light of new information or business decisions."
3 Keys to success
1. Knowledge is power. Work to understand clients, audiences, competitors, and critics
2. Offer an informed insight even among more senior people, but be willing to change or move on when
3. Analyze your work to see if it moved the needle
VP, public affairs, State Farm Insurance (Bloomington, IL)
Chief comms officer, ConAgra Foods (Omaha, NE)
SVP, public affairs, CIGNA (Philadelphia)
VP, PR, US West (Denver)
Director, comms and public affairs, Eastman Kodak (Rochester, NY)
Title: Co-chair, chief creative officer, Whatcanbe Ambassador
Location: New York
Years in PR: 31
Patrice Tanaka was a journalist when a PR job opened up at Hotel InterContinental in Maui. "I didn't let the fact that I had never done PR hold me back," she explains. "That's played out in subsequent jobs."
After two years as director of PR at the hotel, Tanaka moved from her native Hawaii to New York City - without a job or an apartment. "Everybody has been in the situation where they are doing something for the first time," she says. "If you're going to embark on something you've never done, educate yourself and learn everything you possibly can."
Six weeks after the move, Tanaka was working at Jessica Dee Communications (JDC). Three months later, she became second-in-command after two employees quit. "I had to figure it out on the job," she recalls. "[Being] a quick study makes you a good PR person. You're doing that constantly."
Tanaka went on to run JDC after it was acquired by Chiat/Day, and she never stopped learning or pursing her interests. She worked hard and became a master at acquiring and applying new knowledge. Skill, determination, and belief in her-self have served Tanaka in developing new practice areas; leading a management buyout from Chiat/ Day; building her own agency, Patrice Tanaka & Company; and navigating acquisition by Carter Ryley Thomas, which formed CRT/tanaka.
"Use all available tools to research and equip yourself," she advises. "Know who to ask, where to go, and what sources to turn to. Always collect sources of information, and read constantly."
3 Keys to success
1. Learn as much as you can about your job, company, industry, and your clients' industries
2. Work hard and honor your commitments
3. Be authentic, warm, upbeat, and a general pleasure to work with
Co-chair, chief creative officer, CRT/tanaka
CEO and chair, Patrice Tanaka & Company
EVP and GM, Chiat/Day PR
VP, Jessica Dee Communications
PR director, Hotel InterContinental Maui