Communications lessons from almost 40 years of experience

I was among the speakers at the 20th annual Portland Communicators Conference held recently in Portland, Ore. In my presentation, I shared 14 of the lessons I learned from my almost 40 years of working in journalism, public relations and corporate communications.

The focus of my remarks was how to survive, thrive and even prepare for major change, such as a merger. Some of the lessons pertained to internal communications while other pertained to external communications. Some pertained to life in general.

It later occurred to me that there is no reason I shouldn’t post a summary of those lessons on my web site. So here you go:

1) When you can, be loyal. Loyalty still counts for something in this world. Loyalty can produce benefits for you.

2) Build your network by getting involved in professional associations. If you don’t belong to PRSA, IABC or some other professional communications association, you need to fix that.

3) Assisting others in times of need can also benefit the helper.

4) If you have a communications project that you feel is outstanding, enter it into the annual contests held by PRSA and IABC.  It helps validate your skills to others.

5) Be persistent. Don’t give up. If you’re applying for a job or trying to reach any other goal in life, demonstrate you really want it.

6) Don’t restrict your career moves to either internal or external communications. Learn both! There will be more job opportunities for you.

7) Never duck a news reporter’s question and always tell the truth. You have to guard your personal reputation as well as your company’s. If you ever fail to tell the truth, a reporter will remember that. Your personal reputation will always be tainted, even if you leave your company and go to work somewhere else.

8) Communicate as often as you can with employees during a period of major change. Don’t let the logistical hurdles of producing a full blown publication prevent you from communicating often with your company’s employees. An email memo produced on a timely basis is just as effective. And if you don’t have anything new to report, let the employees know that also. But keep the communications channel open.

9) Involve the highest level senior manager you can in the communications process. The message is more credible if it comes from a senior level officer. This also helps build that person’s credibility and public image.

10) Seek out projects where you can make your mark, where you can produce quality work and measurable results. You can not only enter such projects in communication award contests, but they might also come in handy when a new department head is deciding where to make staff cutbacks.

11) Even if your company appears to be frozen by indecision because of a merger, there might be some positive news to communicate if you take the time to search it out.

12) Don’t assume because your company is acquired that your job will be eliminated, especially if you don’t work in the headquarters city.

13) A merger or other period of major change is a chance for your communications skills to take center stage, resulting in career advancement opportunities that would not otherwise be available to you as quickly. As a communicator, your organization will never value your services as much when times are good as it will during a crisis.

14) Surviving a crisis gives you a great sense of perspective. Afterwards, most other problems will seem small in comparison and this will help reduce the stress of daily life.

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