Living the dream

Tanya Lewis profiles seven top-level communicators who have found jobs that combine their professional expertise with lifelong passions.

Tanya Lewis profiles seven top-level communicators who have found jobs that combine their professional expertise with lifelong passions.

Pat Hanlon
Title: SVP of communications, New York Giants
Location: East Rutherford, NJ
Years in current role:
1; with the Giants since 1993

"My job is about people," says Pat Hanlon, SVP of communications for the New York Giants. "The people you work with need to trust you, and you build that trust through relationships. Forging positive relationships is the most gratifying thing to me because success will be based on it."

Career Bio

New York Giants. Director of PR (1993-1996); VP of comms (1996-2011); SVP of comms (2011-present)
New England Patriots. PR director (1991-1992); VP of PR (Jan-Oct 1992)
Pittsburgh Steelers. Asst. publicity director (1987-1990); community relations coordinator (1990-1991)
University of Oklahoma, assistant sports information director/football

Helping rebuild former Giants quarterback Kerry Collins' image is a case in point.

"Kerry joined us in 1999 with a lot of baggage," Hanlon recalls. "He was perceived as a quitter, a drunk, and a racist. You can't have much more baggage than that. But when someone so high profile is committed to changing public perception and you're allowed to make decisions and offer input in their best interest, it doesn't get more rewarding."

Prior to joining the Giants in 1993, Hanlon worked for the New England Patriots. He quit mid-season in 1992, which he says is "unheard of," knowing he might not ever get back into the NFL.

"This was the pre-Kraft family Patriots," Hanlon explains. "The Patriots are a great organization now, but it was in transition and chaotic back then. In many ways, in PR you're only as good as the product you're selling. In a lifetime, you probably only have one of those moves where you just walk away."

Hanlon feels it's well worth the effort to find a job that marries passion and skill.

"My job is unique in that our work is on national display every week through a football season," he says. "An adrenaline rush goes with that."

"If I've got three successes, I've had 10 failures," adds Hanlon, "but failure is enlightening. We're building that into our culture, and we're getting better solutions for clients. If we don't keep learning, why are we doing anything at all?"

Dani Dudeck
Title: GM of corporate communications, Zynga
Location: San Francisco
Years in current role:
About 2.5

After Dani Dudeck realized she most loved working for "founder-led start-ups that strike a cultural chord and have a vision to scale it," Zynga founder and CEO Mark Pincus hired her to head and build a communications function. She left Myspace on a Friday, packed her car, and drove to San Francisco the next day to become GM of global communications at Zynga.

Career Bio

Zynga, GM, corporate communications
Myspace. Director of corporate comms (2006-2007); VP, global corporate comms (2007-2010)
Edelman, Myspace acct. supervisor, digital entertainment and tech practice. Began as SAE in same practice
Hill+Knowlton, consumer tech practice
Cohn & Wolfe, consumer practice

"I was so excited, I couldn't wait to get to Zynga," she recalls. "If you don't feel like that every day, something could be better. You should be really inspired, fulfilled, and having fun – and it's worth it. Run, don't walk, to a job that makes you feel that way."

Dudeck says everyone who works at Zynga is guided and inspired by Pincus' belief that play can enrich people's lives.

"Mark's vision was very clear, and I wanted to play a role in helping the world better understand it," she explains. "It's an opportunity that makes me incredibly excited to walk into work every morning. If you're not motivated by the vision of your company, how are you going to inspire anyone to jump on board?"

Dudeck enjoys her colleagues, noting that everyone is "really passionate" and her team is "like a family." She believes people stay at jobs for the people and the opportunities, and she advises working for someone you really like.

"Follow your dream company," she adds. "Be a fan of your company and be OK with people seeing that. When you're a fan, your conviction and passion will show. If your dream role isn't immediately available, start anywhere and give it all you've got."

Will Seccombe
Title: CMO, Visit Florida
Location: Tallahassee, FL
Years in current role: About 4.5

The scale of Florida tourism is huge – 86.9 million people from 165 countries visited the Sunshine State last year. According to Visit Florida CMO Will Seccombe, one or more of his organization's marketing programs significantly influenced 38.1% of those visitors.

Career Bio

Visit Florida, CMO
Revolution Communications, president
PRACO Advertising and Public Relations, VP and COO
Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, VP, marketing
Loveland Ski Area, director of marketing
Vail Resorts, regional sales manager

"Florida is one of the most powerful travel brands in the world," he explains. "Being its custodian is an incredible opportunity, responsibility, and honor."

Integrated marketing was something Seccombe always wanted to practice, while his passion for skiing led to travel marketing.

"Setting aggressive goals that are meaningful has always driven me," he notes. "Generally, people who have a sense of purpose are the most successful. Personally and professionally, it's important to figure out where you want to be and always use that as the guidepost."

"It's important to realize that it's not a straight line," he adds. "Winds of change – technology, the economy, and so on – are going to push you off course and challenge you, but if you know where you're trying to go, you'll always figure out how to get there."

Seccombe feels all of his jobs have been dream jobs. He seized every opportunity to grow, which continued to fuel his passion.

"I don't think anyone should strive for the ‘dream job,'" he advises. "Hopefully, my next position will be a dream job as well. If you reach your marker, then set the next one. Your career shouldn't be an individual destination; it should be constantly evolving."

Desiree Peterkin Bell
Title: Director of comms & strategic partnerships, Mayor Michael Nutter
Location: Philadelphia 
Years in current role:

Government is Desiree Peterkin Bell's dream industry because, she says, it's the only sector that truly impacts everyone's lives all the time.

"Understanding systems that help people or guide them through the vagaries of life and understanding a big bureaucracy is what drove me into public service," explains Bell, director of communications and strategic partnerships at Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's office.

Career Bio

City of Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter, director of comms and strategic partnerships
City of Newark, NJ, Mayor Cory Booker, director of comms
NYC Marketing Development Corp., VP of government affairs
City of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, legislative representative
City of Indianapolis, Mayor Bart Peterson, special assistant

"I wake up every day wanting to communicate across as many platforms as possible what Mayor Nutter and his administration stand for," she adds. "I'm driven by purpose, not by a position. If you're always guided by purpose, titles shouldn't matter. The work matters."

Bell loves the variety her job affords, noting, "It's never the same every day or even every hour."

Recently, she was able to get Mayor Nutter's work fighting obesity highlighted in an HBO documentary. At press time, she was also working with Jay-Z and his "Made in America" tour to host a two-day music festival in Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend. In addition, Bell created and developed a social media strategy and policy for the city. A University of Illinois at Chicago study has ranked Philadelphia the seventh-most social-media-savvy US city government.

"In some situations, I've done things where there's no blueprint [for] how to get it done," Bell says. "Be willing to be uncomfortable. Many times, that dream job might have to be created. People with dream jobs never really rest in their success for too long. There's no glory in success, just a more defined will to get more work done."

Cindi Berger
Title: Co-chairman and CEO, PMK-BNC
Location: New York
Years in current role:
About 2.5

While lounging in a friend's pool after college graduation in 1983, Cindi Berger read a Cosmopolitan story about celebrity publicists and immediately knew that was what she wanted to do. She exited the pool, drove to Manhattan, and delivered her résumé to three firms. PMK hired her as a receptionist. Today, she's CEO of PMK-BNC.

Career Bio

PMK-BNC, chairman and CEO (PMK/HBH merged with BNC in 2010)
PMK/HBH, managing partner
PMK, account executive
PMK, assistant
PMK, receptionist

"There's nothing rote about my job and I love that," she says. "There's a constant ebb and flow, and everything can change on a dime."

Berger's love of the industry was nurtured by watching classic films with her maternal grand-other. In college, she considered becoming an entertainment lawyer.

"I didn't know what a publicist was until I read that Cosmopolitan article," she recalls. "Then a light bulb went off."

Berger ascended at the agency by working very hard, learning everything she could, and volunteering to help anyone who needed it. "Believe in yourself and don't give up," she advises.

Among the most rewarding aspects of her job, Berger cites getting to work with "the most brilliant creative people in the business," such as Barbara Walters, Robert Redford, and Harvey Weinstein.

"It's a privilege to work with incredibly talented people who are truly passionate about what they do," she explains. "Barbara is a trailblazer for all women in business. Harvey is a modern-day Louis B. Mayer. Working on Oscar campaigns for his films inspires your very best work. Even today, I'm never done learning. You get very strong working with really smart people. That's been extraordinary for me."

Suchit Majmudar
Title: VP of brand development, strategy, Charming Charlie
Location: Houston
Years in current role: 1

Suchit Majmudar's passion for branded consumer goods led him out of financial services and into specialty retail.

Career Bio

Charming Charlie, VP of brand development and strategy
Lululemon Athletica, merchandising director
J.Crew, assoc. merchant
Intern for Sam Ben-Avraham (cofounder of Scoop NYC)
Harvard Business School, MBA
Pritzker Organization, investment associate

"Be true to yourself," says Majmudar, VP of brand development and strategy at fashion jewelry and accessories retailer Charming Charlie. "Figure out what motivates you and try not to judge whatever it is. It might be creativity, and you shouldn't be embarrassed of that. It might be money, and you shouldn't be ashamed of that either. Following your passion allows you to live the most fulfilling life."

Being well informed and fearless helped Majmudar land a succession of dream jobs. While at Harvard Business School, a story in The New York Times Style Magazine prompted him to knock on fashion industry entrepreneur Sam Ben-Avraham's door, which led to an internship. He later emailed J. Crew Group's chairman and CEO Mickey Drexler to make a case for hiring him despite his limited experience.

"Pursue it and don't be afraid of failure," advises Majmudar. "Worst case is someone doesn't respond or says no. Best case is your world opens up with infinite possibilities. You'll get rejected plenty of times, but don't dwell on it. Keep moving forward."

Now at Charming Charlie, Majmudar is helping build infrastructure and brand awareness.

"I'm constantly challenged by the variety of things I work on," he explains. "A lot of cross-functional work goes into building a brand. That excites me most – it's truly a team effort. Make sure your heart is 100% in all you do. You have much more success doing something that genuinely excites you."

Kristen Levine
Title: President, Fetching Communications
Location: Tarpon Springs, FL
Years in current role: 9

Kristen Levine got her first pet when she was just 2 years old. At a very early age, animals became her confidants. The relationships she developed with them growing up shaped her life and career.

After 15 years at the SPCA, she was ready for a change. Winning a spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' cheerleading squad in 2000 proved to her that she could do anything she set her mind to. 

Career Bio

Fetching Communications, president
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, cheerleader
SPCA Tampa Bay, PR manager, media spokesperson
Gulfstream Cablevision, programming manager

Armed with the confidence of that accomplishment, in her late 30s she founded Fetching Communications, the first agency to exclusively serve the pet and veterinary industries.

"All our clients are also pet lovers," explains Levine. "Every day, I help get more exposure for products or services I either use or appreciate. Going to work is really enjoyable. I get myself and my dog ready and we go to work together." 

If she'd thought too much about all of the details one must consider before starting one's own business, Levine admits she might have been intimidated and not done it.

"I just went for it," she recalls. "I started without having a business plan or anything. It was fortuitous timing because the pet industry was booming. I put things in place – such as a business plan – as the company grew. The way it evolves is exciting." 

Levine suggests people should not worry about shifting careers at any stage.

"What you want in your 30s might be differ from what you wanted in your 20s," she says. "It's perfectly fine to start a new career. Think about what you want out of life, and plan a career path that affords those things."

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