Government, finance and public transportation are not sectors that typically come to mind when considering careers in the communications industry, but they were front and center at “Non-Traditional Communications Jobs That Rock” panel on May 9, 2017, at Treehaus MiMA. The event, which was hosted by NYWICI’s Young Professionals’ Committee, featured three panelists who pivoted from “typical” communications jobs and went on to build successful careers elsewhere in the industry.
Carlyn Reichel started out at a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. before pursuing a career in political speech writing, and she is now director of communications at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. Dana Deubert Blythe worked in television production before shifting gears to a career in financial services and is now managing director of global public affairs at Citi and Beth DeFalco spent years “chasing crises” as a reporter for several outlets before shifting to the other side of crisis communications, which led to her current role as communications director of the MTA.
When it comes to their careers being considered “non-traditional,” Carlyn pointed out that more women pursuing roles in these sectors can help change that perception. Here are some takeaways from the panel discussion:
On the skills needed to pursue a communications career…
According to Dana, it all starts with good writing. “I often question that and pick at it a little, but it really is your entry point to becoming a communications person. And I have yet to meet a peer who says that isn’t so.” In addition, presentation and speaking skills also play an important part in getting your foot in the door.
Beth added that the ability to build honest relationships of a transactional nature is also important when pursuing a communications career. “It seems sort of blunt but I found it to be more expedient…We can never figure out what people want, and sometimes all you have to do is ask,” she said.
And Carlyn noted that in speech writing particularly, preparation and research skills are critical.
On forging a new path…
All three panelists agreed that you don’t necessarily need to have worked in the sector you’re pursuing in order to land a job, but rather should be able to articulate that your skills are transferable. “One of the things I always talked about [in interviews] is I’m a really fast learner, and I’m a mimic and I’m a chameleon,” said Dana.
“Don’t take no for an answer,” Beth stressed, while recounting a story in which her journalism professor told her she didn’t have enough experience for a job she was pursuing.
And Carlyn went to grad school to help forge a new career path, but agreed that persistence is what landed her a speech writing job. She also emphasized that offering to work for free is often “a magic sprinkle in the sauce” when trying to win over a potential employer.
On managing a crisis…
According to Beth, while you might not be 100% accurate, making quick and clear decisions are extremely importance in a crisis. “The waffling is where the crisis spins out of control.”
Dana advised remaining calm in the face of a crisis and understanding that “the crisis is what’s happening around you, you are not part of that crisis. You’re part of mitigating the crisis.”
On being a woman in their fields…
Carlyn was able to navigate a “very white, male-dominated space” by taking a more aggressive approach. “I don’t know that I would advise this in every office, but judging my relationships as it were...I think there are opportunities to push back a little bit.”
A game changer, Beth admitted, was learning to stop apologizing for things and getting past the notion of being liked. “I stopped asking for ‘thank yous’ and just started doing my job.”