I once was lost, but now am saved. So it seems, anyway. At a major juncture in my life and one year after starting this blog, I thought it an opportune time to explain how my discovery of the public relations profession pretty much saved my life. Maybe not in a fully literal sense, but close enough to it.
This is a very personal story. Not the normal gist of this blog. But, in some ways – at a sub-atomic level, perhaps – it is ALL about this blog.
It is also longer than my normal posts, but whilst it may be a mini-epic, it is no mini-series.
Fundamental messages of my story include:
- If you have a sense, an intuition, of being capable of something, exhaust that sense until you are 100% satisfied it has been resolved. Otherwise there will be a vacancy within you that will eat at you like acid
- You can begin a career later than in your 20s
- Determination and persistence get you an opportunity; hard work and talent create a career.
Looking for a career, vocation…wherefore art thou??
In my early thirties I was struggling. I had spent time as an actor, waiter and restaurant manager and stood fairly accused as the worst barista in Sydney. I was also a DJ and a journalist on popular culture (mainly rock music – starting out on punk and new wave, then evolving into soul, funk, jazz and roots/country music). I was a pretty good music writer (I thought so, anyway) and DJ and had, as you can imagine, some pretty wild times in these vocations.
In fact, I still write about music for street mag Drum Media for fun, with highlights of the 20+ gigs I have seen this year being the astonishing Wayne Shorter, the lovable Ricki Lee Jones and the unique Lyle Lovett.
Back in my early thirties, though, I couldn’t get a grip on life. I knew I needed some sort of stable vocation to get me on the straight and narrow. I dropped out of post-school college/uni (I studied drama, an early passion, acting with Glenn Robbins aka Kath and Kim in one play) and so didn’t have that elusive degree behind me. I tried to enrol in a journalism course at uni as a mature age student a couple of times, but was rejected.
I had a sort of fearful, fragile confidence in my writing skills. And I thought if I can just get a gig applying these skills in a business environment that might be my ticket out of my personal cul de sac. So I went to see a couple of careers advisers. Supposed careers advisers. I told them about my writing skills and wanting to apply them in a business context, but…
You might think the term ‘marketing’, even if not ‘public relations’, would have come up. But no, not on your life (dickheads).
Making ends meet, but what and where is ‘the end’?
So on I struggled, surviving on the dole and labouring jobs, some meagre takings from freelance rock writing and the odd restaurant gig (as by this time I couldn’t take the hospitality industry anymore: pandering to people’s inane predilections, and their condescension, takes more forbearance than I was capable of consistently delivering).
I applied for over 100 jobs, never seeming to get close to an interview.
Ex-PM/cultural-social-political icon/Australian hero Paul Keating’s Working Nation program gave me some extraordinarily rudimentary desktop publishing skills to go along with the writing skills. Then…one fateful day. I got an interview with the Retail Traders Association of NSW.
The PR ‘break’
Armed with incentives to take on unemployed people like myself, along with my new ‘graphic design’ skills (…), I scored a job – thanks Bill Healey. After three months I asked Bill, well, my probation is over, have I got the job. I loved his response and still do: “Well, you’re still here aren’t you?” Now that’s what I call a performance review!
I was writing case studies, placing them in the media and providing internal communication resources. This was pretty cool, I thought, this seemed like what I might be looking for, but wondered: what is this? What is this vocation I seem to be in?
Next thought: I’d better get a qualification in this ‘thing’ (whatever the hell it is) to make sure I can keep this baby rolling.
I saw a short course in PR and that rang a few bells. Am I in public relations? So I took the course, given by the legendary David Potts. About 10 minutes into the first session, the scales fell from my eyes: JESUS WEPT, I’M IN PUBLIC RELATIONS!
As soon as that course was over I enrolled in a Graduate Certificate in Public Relations at UTS (I was too dumb, underqualified and under experienced to get into a masters). There, I had the extremely good fortune to be taught by more Australian heroes like Gael Walker and John Carr. I ate it up, then articulated the certificate into a full Masters of Communication, where more very wonderful teachers like Shirli Kirschner, Rebecca Harris and Jane Jordon shared their practical and academic knowledge with me.
The masters was the best thing I could have done. It provided me with insights into the wonderful potential of PR and the structure of strategic communication.
So I got my degree when I was just shy of 40, the first person in my family to get one. I was proud, sure, but my God I was relieved. I had something to fall back on, yes, but you know what? One of the greatest gifts that the Masters gave me was self-esteem, a belief that maybe I wasn’t as worthless as I thought I was. Sure, I had the ego to protect myself, that masculine, brittle bravado that held all doubts at arms length. But really, they were there, feasting on my psyche and soul in private moments, shaping who I was in public.
My career progressed at an exciting pace, with excellent jobs in a number of organisations such as 2iC Integrated Communication (with the inspirational Cath Stace and other wonderful colleagues) and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (where I have also made some friends with people who I hope stay in my life for as long as it lasts).
What PR means to me
Before PR came along, I was a drowning man. When it appeared, it was solid land onto which I held. And what at first seemed like a desert island that would suffice, quickly evolved into a continent that has nurtured me and allowed me to explore myself on both a personal and professional level.
PR suits me as a person. I am politically inclined towards social democracy. I believe we all have a responsibility to global society. PR, to me, has that notion embedded into it.
Fundamental elements of public relations that attract me include:
- It facilitates communication, understanding and engagement between organisations and their stakeholders
- It helps prompt organisations change as much as it prompts stakeholders to change, leading to a more equitable, responsive and respectful society
- It necessitates empathising with ‘others’ and, as such, learning from them: it is a humanising professional discipline
- The way in which it is analogous to culture or art; the way it captures elements of contemporary life and helps reflect back those elements with different emphases; and also because it can be very creative and packed full of ideas
- It is intellectually stimulating as you learn about different industries, ideas and a diverse array of people (not to mention their views of the world)
- Writing is the number one skill you need. This is the technical skill I enjoy practicing the most and have a high degree of confidence in.
Public relations and I: now
So, 16 odd years after discovering this wonderful profession called public relations, I am a much happier and more satisfied person. The last few years have been another story in itself, with me struggling to find a specific job in which to satisfactorily work. The GFC got me retrenched, but it has led to me operating my own business which has been an unplanned eye-opener and extremely rewarding. But that is a story for another day…
I was very, very lucky to find what I consider to be my ‘home in professional business communication – or public relations. Its principles have made me a better person and a better father than I would otherwise have been (as for better husband, well, my wife might want to post on that. But then again, maybe not…).
As for the future, well, let’s think about that….
How did you discover public relations? What does the discipline mean to you? Did you come to it from another profession? Are you tired of it and/or do you think you’d like to move to another profession? What would that be and why that particular profession?
If you liked this post, perhaps you have a friend who would also like it you can send a link to.
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