Renaissance Communications Man Seeks Advice.
June 9, 2008 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Am I a marketer? Am I a flack? Am I lost? Yep.

I'm currently the marcomm director at a non-profit agency - the only person in my department. I am a true renaissance man, handling marketing, PR, internal communications, the website (I've hand-coded an entire site), all our graphic design and some video production.

I do it all, and that's kind of the problem. I'm looking to leave for the for-profit world, and I don't know which way to go. Marketing seems to be the best solid profession to get into (I am a family man as well, so pay is a big consideration) but I'm not sure I know what a for-profit marketer would do. Most marketing positions I see seem to be industry-specific as well. The more job descriptions I read, and the more resumes I read of people who are in marketing, the more I realize I may not have any idea how to do that at all - and it's rather depressing.

In my former life, I was a TV news producer in a top ten market, which gives me a lot of solid, basic skills that translate into any industry: team leading, writing, ability to grasp complex topics quickly and translate them into common language, working under HIGH PRESSURE under daily deadlines. When I do the PR part of my current job, it's this background I use, and I have a very easy time dealing with the media. I have no problem speaking on camera, or to large groups of people. I see people making PR mistakes ALL THE TIME. Sometimes I think I should go into for-profit PR based on my journalism background, but I dread working for an agency, calling reporters and producers with forced story ideas from a lame client.

My true passions, though, are graphic design and web design. I love CSS, Flash, XHTML, all things Adobe. I'm told I have a talent for it, but referencing a previous point (I'm a family man, entering my mid-thirties) I'm not sure I can create a new career from it.

Bottom line: How do I leave the non-profit world, and which path do I pursue?
posted by producerpod to Work & Money (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say go web, but your wife and children might not think that's the best answer.

Did you go non-profit because you didn't like rats and racing with them? Because, you know, marketing has only gotten worse.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:35 PM on June 9, 2008

Can't tell for sure from your profile or question where you are from, but the U.S. lost jobs in May for a fifth consecutive month and the unemployment rate rose by the most in more than two decades, signaling that the U.S. economy is stalling, CNBC reported. Payrolls fell by 49,000 after a 28,000 drop in April, and an 88,000 drop in March the Labor Department said last week. The jobless rate increased by half a point to 5.5 percent. So this may not be the best time to be considering a job change.

I would suggest doing some research to see which of your skills are likely to be most in demand in the next 12 months, and work on enhancing your abilities in that area. If you are lucky, that will also be where your passions lie.
posted by netbros at 8:55 PM on June 9, 2008

You could start doing consulting on the side and then either use that experience to move into a new industry or to become a full-time consultant. (I can appreciate that the timing may not be right for that.) You might want to look into independent consulting in marketing, PR, marcom, etc. I make a very good living as a marketing consultant and many of my clients have included non-profits. I didn't have a ton of industry experience before I became a consultant, although I chose my niche carefully.

Otherwise, you might want to look into a short course or some targeted networking that will either prove your knowledge in a new area or help you win over employers/contacts in new industries. You could also use this to do some consulting and then you'll be even stronger.

Failing that, find and build raving fans who will help you move into a new industry.
posted by acoutu at 9:12 PM on June 9, 2008

Create an amazing portfoilo in your sparetime. If your stuff is good, you won't have a hard time finding a full-time job or do consulting. Start a blog, it's a great way to communicate your personality and show off your stuff.
posted by bprater at 9:16 PM on June 9, 2008

If you're in a position in a money strong non-profit and they have cash reserves and good base of major gifts to ride out the current economy I would vote that you stay. You can overcome the current malaise by starting to get to know the other areas of your non-profit and build your skills. You should also do classes and networking events. Consulting is a good idea and it's fun. I work full time in a non-profit environment too and do consulting on the side.

Consulting is work, however. If you do it right, you'll probably end up doing things for allied organizations related to the focus of your non-profit and you'll face the dilemma of knowing your boss knows about what you are doing. Setting fees is often difficult at the outset. I would suggest that you figure out how much work you are willing to do beyond your work day and then multiply it by your actual hourly wage. Set a cap, too. That's very important to your sanity and that of your contract.

Your situation is very much like my own. I was the producer of a public radio show and know exactly the kind of deadline environment that you speak of. Something that might be a sideline is that you advertise yourself as a media vet whose got tips on really breaking a story to local and national electronic media effectively. That way, you can show off the big mistakes you've seen and offer clear-cut ways to address these issues.

A way to do that, and gain both outside attention and kudos is to check out Chronicle of Philanthropy and look for upcoming non-profit seminars or conferences related to the goals of your non-profit and contacting them with the idea of leading a panel or sitting on one to present a piece. Have your work ready and bring business cards. It's important to follow up each one you get back, because it may lead to a new job or opportunity.

I think part of the problem is that you're coming out of an industry where you are required to think on your feet and meet deadlines immediately. Suddenly, you are just answering the phone. It's tricky and sadly the money is mostly the same.
posted by parmanparman at 9:26 PM on June 9, 2008

I forgot to note, and I should, that media consultants for non-profits are currently a-dime-a-dozen. Anyone with a website and just over a year of non-profit work experience is currently riding this wave. You can encounter them at any networking night you ever attend.

It irks me because there is such a vast number of inexperienced people who are attempting to do real, actual non-profit marketing. These same people are the ones going to conferences to talk about 'the ten mistakes non-profits make when they talk to the media'.

That's the big issue that you are going to have to deal with: an over-saturated, under-experienced consultant pool and a foolish morass of non-profits who think a person working for peanuts to write press releases is a good idea.

You might once have been a journalist with lots of deadline experience and solid, basic skills that translate into any industry: team leading, writing, ability to grasp complex topics quickly and translate them into common language, but if you've never led a campaign, created fundraising vehicles for online and traditional outreach, gone toe to toe with board members, prospected and approached donors, written LOIs and grant applications, or built a community for a program or product then you really are lost.

An amazing portfolio is not simple press clippings, some kind words from media people or your co-workers and a website you've designed. An amazing portfolio shows that you've gone from strength to strength - on your own if need be and that is often unfortunate case in non-profits - and done the work to originate and grow programs and funding for programs.

Plainly, and in the non-profit world: If you can't show that you can effectively raise money and build loyal and active communities around programs and services then DO NOT become a consultant. Stay where you are, learn what you can, and do whatever you can to improve your abilities in those two key areas.
posted by parmanparman at 10:01 PM on June 9, 2008

Depending on where you are, you could have a nice career doing PR for the tech industry, as many in the field don't have the tech chops to really understand the technologies they're talking about. In many cases, your fear of working on boring clients might be unfounded and you might be in an enviable position of working with great clients helping bring interesting products to market.
posted by judith at 11:10 PM on June 9, 2008

Response by poster: Wonderful comments from all. More clarification:

I'm seeking to leave my non-profit because we are small and struggling to grow. We have no revenue stream and rely on grants, gifts, and fund raising events. The agency is heading upward, but I have little confidence that it will grow that quickly. I also have no position to aspire to; there is not a VP of Marketing job that exists, and without the money, there won't be any time soon. Part of the pay, of course, is the knowledge that I am helping at-risk kids succeed in life.

I don't necessarily have a problem with non-profits, but as parmanparman mentioned, I would like to be in a non-profit with reserves and a strong donor base. Every campaign we try, it seems like we're starting from scratch.

@parmanparman: As for consulting, while I have dabbled in all those skills you have mentioned, I have not done all of them fully, if that makes sense. I also feel this is my weakness across the board: If I could focus on one area, instead of having to handle all the areas, I might grow further. I am hesitant to go into that field without the experience to back it up, because I do sense there are a lot of snake-oil salesman that give the others a bad name.

I have considered doing web work for non-profits on the side to further build my portfolio and help grow those skills, but I am constantly second-guessing that decision, worried that it won't pay off in the long run.

@netbros: I'm currently in Texas, which has somewhat weathered the job storm, so I am fortunate in that regard.

@judith: The more I think about it, the more I believe I need to do something similar to what you wrote and build upon my 10 years of experience in news.

Networking is my next step. Any opinions about joining the AMA or PRSA?
posted by producerpod at 6:38 AM on June 10, 2008

Best answer: I work in political communications so I don't know that much about the for-profit PR world, but your credentials seem very marketable to me. That said, it also seems to me that you're not "selling yourself" in quite the right way. You should try to do some informational interviews with people who have the jobs you'd like to get-- ask them how they got those positions and what they look for when hiring.

My guess is that a good move for you would be to get a mid-level position at a marketing firm. Working there would enable you to fill some of the gaps in your knowledge, which would eventually allow you to get an in-house director position or to strike out on your own.

I also second the advice about putting together a portfolio and about the need to differentiate yourself from all the wannabes in the communications world. A really strong portfolio is going to be vital to proving that you're the real deal-- especially because you're asking people to take a chance on you as you shift fields.

Again, I'm not sure about the for-profit world, but in my subfield people who can handle "new media" (web, video, etc) are very hot commodities right now. Burnishing your skills there might provide you with the ticket you need to get a for-profit job.

Good luck!
posted by chickletworks at 10:31 AM on June 10, 2008

I'd recommending networking and doing consulting with clients/people who aren't in the non-profit OR marketing world. Get out there and meet people who have other ways into the organizations -- not people competing for the same jobs.
posted by acoutu at 1:00 PM on June 10, 2008

A TON of PR agencies are going digital. Actually, every single reputable PR agency is looking for people to do web 2.0 stuff. They would love you. Check out Edelman, Burson-Marstellar, Ogilvy (especially Ogilvy), Hill and Knowlton and Fleishman-Hillard. You should be good to go after you introduce yourself to them.
posted by onepapertiger at 10:25 AM on June 12, 2008

Lots of PR firms have interactive divisions, and would want to hire someone like you who knows both marketing, PR and web stuff. Check out places like Ruder Finn Interactive, Burson, Porter Novelli, Edelman, etc. Also look into traditional web firms such as R/GA,, Avenue A/Razorfish, Sapient, and the like.
posted by lsemel at 8:06 PM on August 31, 2008

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