What we have here... is a failure to communicate
November 28, 2006 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Calling all AskMefites who work for a strategic communications firm or in corporate communications: how did you get your gig?

Just looking for personal accounts of how people broke into the field, and/or any advice you may have for someone who's trying to.

Bonus Qs: a) any listings of firms or trade magazines you'd recommend for someone looking to get into this field? and b) are there any special skills -- other than the obvious good communication skills -- that are helpful in this sort of work? (Knowledge of specific computer programs, etc.?) Thanks!
posted by hazelshade to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Exactly what do you want to do within this "strategic communications firm"?

Young, confident, smart seem to be the biggest qualifications.

Most of the good ones take interns. If you've got the right stuff and can learn on your feet, try for an internship at a good shop, kiss ass and overdeliver til your lips are chapped and your knees are bruised, and that could lead to a contract or position.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:51 PM on November 28, 2006

echoing artful codger: what do you want to do in stratcom? if you want to be in creative, i think your path to success is different than if you want to be in research or internal communications.

regardless, get yourself an internship or four
posted by mdpc98 at 7:47 PM on November 28, 2006

I'm in the same boat. I have no idea what the solution to this problem is, short of doing many internships, but I'd like you to know that you're certainly not the only one out there who feels this particular brand of pain.
posted by graytona at 12:16 AM on November 29, 2006

Well, first thing I guess is to do a widely applicable degree. I did English Literature, and after the obligatory stint at coffee shops and temping for banks, ended up with a big consultancy. First thing you find out about big IT programmes is that communications are the most important things in the world when they go right and are well received, but instantly reviled and blamed for everything that's going wrong when they aren't. If you try for work with big consultancies, you should be able to get yourself into communications roles, and will get the chance to work across a number of companies and industries, which is all grist to the mill when it comes to going to a specialist communications company. The downside is of course that it's very hard work, and you might get yanked into a two year testing role. So it's a bit of a gamble.

The interning route might be the way to go, but if nothing else, consulting will pay your bills and student debts, while hopefully getting you the marketplace cred to get a more specialist job.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:19 AM on November 29, 2006

I worked at Hill & Knowlton for three years. I joined via the grad recuitment programme.

Lots of competition but if you persevere you'll find something. You get such a gig in the same way you'd get any other gig; sheer bloody-minded persistence. And a great covering letter - seriously, you're applying to be a professional communicator. Do not fuck your covering letter up.

PR Week is essential reading for entrants but also read the FT every day for a month before any interview or internship for more general business knowledge. I can't emphasise that enough, at interview among other things we discussed voting reform, legal settlement with the survivors a train crash and the concept of ministerial responsibility as applied to senior management of publicly listed companies; don't bullshit - these people will see right through you. Have an intelligent thought or reason it through with them but don't be glib.
posted by dmt at 7:00 AM on November 29, 2006

One thing I've noticed is that many PR-type groups are currently fascinated with blogs and other informal communications. It's good to be able to navigate online universes.

Of course, you're here, so that indicates something.

Other than that, I've noticed that many of us got into PR/stratcom/crisis communications purely by accident.
posted by answergrape at 9:11 AM on November 29, 2006

My sister, IIRC, got into the business through volunteering on a political campaign. It doesn't usually pay, but it can be a route to a full-time job if the candidate wins. (She worked as an intern, then in speechwriting, then as press secretary, then finally in private sector PR.)
posted by phoenixy at 11:40 AM on November 29, 2006

I also had an English Lit. degree and sort of backed into this field. I jumped from teaching at an I.T. training company to being a web design person in a communications department. I think, in general, that corporate communications departments value a liberal arts degree in combination with other specialized skills (print design, web design, writing, editing etc.). If you come off as well spoken and have some of these specialized skills to offer, you have a good chance of getting your foot in the door. It helps if you have some sort of portfolio (published writing, print design work, web design work) to back you up.

In terms of software, I’ve found that communications departments value someone who can pitch in where needed if the workload gets heavy. It’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of programs like Quark, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver.

For resources, check out IABC and PRSA.
posted by Otis at 11:46 AM on November 29, 2006

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