Judy Phair is president of PhairAdvantage Communications, LLC, a global public relations and marketing consultancy, as well as senior advisor, communications, Council of Independent Colleges. Judy’s public relations career has included senior executive positions at colleges, universities and associations. She was 2005 President and CEO of PRSA and received PRSA’s Gold Anvil Award in 2010.
A career in public relations wasn’t part of my master plan. I started out in my “dream job” as a newspaper reporter. My transition from reporting to public relations was mostly accidental – I’d moved to a new city and the best offer I received was in public relations.
That job launched me on a lifelong profession that is always challenging, stimulating and, yes, fun. Public relations offers us the potential to make a positive difference – in our organizations, our community, our world.
While the practice of public relations has undergone significant change over the decades, the essence of what I love about this field remains the same. Public relations people focus on solutions – we see problems as opportunities to make things better.
As you prepare for a career in public relations today, you have unprecedented opportunities to do work that is strategic, creative and impactful. New technology and tools have helped us achieve results in ways previously unimagined. We communicate faster, reach bigger and more diverse audiences, and target those audiences better. We’ve become the controllers of our content and distributors of our messages. At the same time, developing an effective strategy, based on research and understanding, remains at the core of our craft. Trust is still essential to building relationships – in person and on line. Social media may offer new ways to reach out, but as a new media format it succeeds or fails by the same standards as any other form of media – it must be transparent, it must offer unique information, and it must be responsive.
You are entering a truly global profession. Some of my most exciting assignments in recent years have involved working with clients in such cultures as India and China. I’ve learned that some basic tenets apply to effective communication around the world: You must know and understand your audiences, whether they’re in Mumbai or a Chicago suburb. People value personal contact and they want specific, not generic, messages that address their needs. Authenticity and transparency are critical.
Be sure to take advantage of every international opportunity that presents itself, from study and work abroad to learning new languages. Learn the language of business, too – become familiar with sound business principles and practices so you provide greater value.
Approach each new project with a strategic point of view. Ask why, not how, and use that knowledge. The best professionals in our business begin with research and pay attention to what it tells them – even if it runs counter to their original ideas.
Finally, as you progress throughout your career, recognize the importance of cooperation and collaboration, and of giving back. The fact is, no one succeeds alone. We each owe others for what we accomplish, and we benefit from being part of a team that is stronger and smarter than its individual parts. We also have a responsibility to give back to our profession – through volunteer work, through mentoring and through showing our commitment to the ethical practice of public relations in our daily lives.