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Remaining Relevant…at the Speed of Change

Author: perkinsk | Image: perkinsk

A few weeks ago, I was asked by a new colleague how long I’ve been in the “communications” business. My career – which has spanned nearly 40 years and features experience in various disciplines and settings – has been a wild and unpredictable ride. I shared with her that I’ve been in and out of nonprofits, private sector businesses and various industries, including those in B2B and B2C. I’ve been a solo performer, led small teams, and currently lead 65 communications professionals at a Fortune 100 company. And I’ve done work in internal communications, advertising, public relations, as well as having a significant amount of executive counseling experience in all those disciplines.

She remarked, “That’s amazing. I suspect there isn’t much you haven’t seen in your career.”

Her comment started me thinking and I paused as I thought about my reply. I smiled, and then shared the following thoughts with her:

Much has changed since I first started out in the profession many decades ago.
+ We didn’t have email, for example. In fact, my career started in the pre-computer age. I remember finding White-Out – for those who might not know, a correction fluid for typewriter copy – everywhere but on the content where it was supposed to go.
+ My design skills consisted of plastic fonts, an X-acto knife, sticky plastic rules of various point sizes, ruled paper, and band aids, the latter primarily because of my lack of skill with the knife.
+ What we thought of as speed was very different then. My local organization would deliver news by delivery van to news outlets. News conferences were called with at least 24 hours’ notice.
+ Media tours were as much about logistical travel plans as they were about the content we pitched.
+ Need the better part of a day to respond to a media inquiry? No problem. We had adequate time to develop responses.
+ My day typically ran from 8 AM to 5 PM, and only rarely on nights and weekends would I need to be available.
+ Real-time reporting meant radio news, because they could be on air at the top of the hour, although they usually only had to beat evening TV and the next morning’s newspapers with the news of the day. Because of that, even radio reporters were rarely in a huge hurry.

Then I thought about today’s world, and realized my mentors from decades before wouldn’t recognize it. I’m sure they couldn’t comprehend that:
+ Large chunks of data can be written, edited, and transmitted instantly. Typewriters gave way to desktops, to laptops, to mobile devices and smartwatches.
+ Media tours are done virtually now, without the need for travel.
+ “Faster” is the officially requested speed of everything.
+ Email, social media and texts demand immediate response. Today, for example, we can’t call meetings, debate responses and then create messaging.
+ To that end, content – both reactionary and internal – must be anticipated and developed well in advance as there simply isn’t time to create them in a crisis.
+ We’re a 24/7 function. I sleep with my phone next to my ear in case an issue occurs overnight. And if you’re wondering, yes, it rings occasionally, including on weekends.
+ There is no such thing as “internal communication.” Employees can – and do – share our messaging instantly. In fact, when we release our internal content we are also prepared to respond to reporters.
+ Employees raise internal and external issues on company-sanctioned social media platforms. This keeps sticky issues churning as well generates new ones that must be addressed.

I could see my colleague processing this information.

Then she paused, and asked, “How did you deal with such massive change? At what point did you know enough to do your job well? And how is it possible to understand each of the disciplines of journalism, advertising, and public relations? After all, aren’t they each individual skill sets?”

In her heart, of course, she knew the answers to those questions. We’re never done learning. Decision-making will continue to accelerate and new tools will emerge to help us understand, develop and curate content. Change is the expectation, not the enemy. In fact, managing change becomes the baseline for our profession. And there are more similarities than differences in journalism, advertising, and public relations.

She then asked my thoughts about ways to thrive in such an ever-changing environment. We discussed participating in industry organizations, personal development, self-help content, and professional trainings and seminars. Ongoing learning keeps us ahead and prepared for change, both in real-time as well as keeping an eye out for those emerging issues that are lingering just beyond the horizon. We subsequently moved on to discussing examples for each of these opportunities.

As a part of that conversation, I was delighted to share with her that my alma mater, the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, is sponsoring an Industry Summit on April 6 at the ISU Alumni Center. (Register here:

I told her this conference will feature something for everyone:

+ Storytelling and capturing the attention of elusive media audiences
+ Protecting credibility in the era of fake news and alternative facts
+ Embracing digital advertising with the rise of new digital habits by consumers

This daylong event is designed to address the extraordinary changes occurring in the fields of journalism, advertising and public relations. The summit will explore the latest industry trends, bringing together industry leaders and practitioners with the latest academic research. Experts on the cutting edge of digital, content, and other professional areas are coming from around the country to participate.

I’m inviting several colleagues – including my new friend in the story above – who have indicated they want to stay ahead of the professional change curve and remain relevant and fresh in their careers.

I hope you’ll also join us in taking advantage of this inaugural Summit event at Greenlee. For me, it will be a great opportunity to recharge my batteries and mingle with leaders in the profession. In addition to an environment of ongoing learning, I know there will be many people I want to meet and others to get to know even better.

Please look me up at the Summit in Ames on April 6. I look forward to seeing you there!

For further industry updates follow us @GreenleeSummit.

*Rick Phillips is Vice President and Chief Communications Officer for Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company based in Columbus, Ohio. He is a Greenlee graduate and serves as Vice Chair of the Greenlee Alumni Advisory Council.*