Australian Government,  Canberra,  Communications professional

New to communications? Lessons learnt from a long-term member of the club

I remember starting out in communications. Everything seemed exciting running events, going to a media doorstop, presenting to stakeholders. At uni I always wanted to work in one of those big PR agencies that ran high profile campaigns. It all seemed so glamourous.

And then reality struck… Hours spent stuffing envelopes, the grumpy journalists wanting you to meet their deadlines, the difficult clients that leave you in tears. There are amazing, glamourous PR jobs, they do exist, but most people will not get one of those.

Especially in Canberra, it is more likely you will (at least once) work in government or at least work for government clients. And it’s not all bad.

Fifteen years on I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up and I am doing it, working in communications. This industry is not for everyone but those that are ‘in the club’ are passionate, dedicated and supportive.

If you are just starting out, here are my insights into working in communications.

No one day is the same

When hiring new staff I am looking for is someone who is flexible, adaptable and willing go with the flow. That is because in communications you never know what any given day will hold in store for you.

Every day will be different, except for the fact that at the end of the day your priorities probably will have completely changed. A media enquiry will come in, a crisis will hit, an Executive will spring a new project on you, a stakeholder will demand a meeting, your website will stop working.

Any number of things will happen in your day, that will keep you guessing. If you love problem solving and negotiation, this is a great industry for you. This means endless challenges and chances are you won’t get bored.

There will be ups and downs

At some point in your career you will question if communications is the right choice for you. It is inevitable. You will have highs – that big announcement going off without a hitch, the new website or intranet launch, a new program getting engagement, a promotion. But there will also be bad times. Communications can wear you down. You have to be constantly switched on, and this often leads to burn out. Many people will dismiss your capability and your profession.

Some of you will walk away, decide to follow another path, and that is ok. Others will stick it out and become ‘lifers’ like me.

Relationships are the most important thing you can build

Your career will only be as successful as your relationships. Regardless of if you work in-house or in an agency you will have clients, you will work in a team, you will have colleagues, stakeholders, service providers. You will not be able to do your job well unless you have a good working relationship with all of these people. You don’t have to become best friends with all of them, but you do need to be able to work side by side during the stressful times. Other than not being able to do everything yourself, your relationships will also get you a new job, a connection to the right person, or in my case business.

It’s rarely glamourous and often dirty

You might be a lucky one and get to go on an international trip, go to a cocktail party, attend the dinner at a conference, dress up for an awards ceremony. Let me tell you now you will remember those moments because they will be rare compared to the day to day work.

Especially at the beginning of your career you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. Put your hand up for the tedious jobs, migrating content to a new website, stuffing envelopes/folders/bags, mail merges, data entry. It is just part of running any communications campaign and it will teach you how much effort goes into making it happen.

This dirty work will get you noticed. If you are the one always willing to help, wiling to stay back after hours to get the job done. You will be known as the doer and the doers get the promotions.

Is it worth it?

After this little rant you might be wondering why you should work in communications at all? Because it is unbelievably rewarding.

That moment sitting with your team when a new website goes live after a year of work, when you watch a Minister stand up and announce a project you have spent months planning, your story on the front page of a major paper. It’s super rewarding.

You will make amazing friends, you will meet exceptionally knowledgeable people, you will be involved in some mind-blowing projects. It is a tough industry to work in but for many of you it will be a very gratifying career choice.

The next wave of communications professionals starts at uni this week. I hope those of us that came before you will leave a legacy of improved capability, increased respect, higher expectations about ethics and values, and a profession that you will be proud to be a part of.

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