On Building a Career in Public Relations: How To Build A Brand in 2021?

May 23rd 2021

Amy Cunningham is currently the Director of Marketing and Communications for Columbia Hospitality. She leads a team of 21 people to support digital marketing, social media and public relations across more than 25 properties within the Columbia Portfolio. Before joining Columbia, Amy was principal of ElUquote, a consultancy that focuses on better business communications. She ghost-wrote speeches for presentations across the globe, and led internal communications across four teams for Deloitte Consulting, representing more than 15,000 employees. 

Before Deloitte, Amy also worked with PR firms and digital marketing agencies for 20 years, building awareness campaigns and writing thought leadership pieces for technology and medical device clients including Philips Healthcare and IBM. She is a recipient of the STAR award of excellence for her work in technology communications. Often working closely with C-level executives, Amy’s expertise is the ability to message key thoughts and ensure each word supports the speaker’s goal. Amy spends her free time as a marathon runner, a TedX Seattle volunteer, traveling with her family and coach for the St. Anne middle school speech team.

The episode was recorded on March 30th, 2021. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the views of their current or former employer(s).

Amy’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amy-cunningham-b981461/ 🔥

Natalia 0:10 Hello, everyone. This is yet another episode of career talks by Welcome Solutions. In these meetings, we talk with professionals who share their career paths with us and share their insights into how to build a successful career in today’s world. Today, I have the great pleasure to introduce Amy Cunningham, who is currently the Director of Marketing and Communications for Columbia hospitality. She leads a team of 21 people to support digital marketing, social media, and public relations across more than 25 properties within the Columbia portfolio.

Before joining Columbia, Amy was a principal at EIUquote, a consultancy that focuses on better business communications. She goes through speeches for presentations across the globe and leads international communications across teams for Deloitte Consulting, representing more than 15,000 employees. Before Deloitte, Amy also worked with PR firms and digital marketing agencies for 20 years, building awareness campaigns and the writer thought leadership pieces for technology and medical device clients including Philips, healthcare, and IBM.

She is a recipient of the Star Award of Excellence for her work in technology communications, often working closely with C-level executives. Amy’s expertise is the ability to message key thoughts and ensure each word supports the speaker’s goal. Amy spends her free time as a marathon runner at TEDx Seattle volunteer, traveling with her family, and coaching for the St. Anne Middle School speech team. Thank you so much, Amy, for accepting the invitation and for being with us today. Thank you so much. And I’m very curious about your career story.

It’s been a long way. I know that although it’s hard to believe because you look very young. It’s hard to believe that you’ve been there for over 20 years now. But I like to hear more from your own perspective.

Amy Cunningham 2:42 I grew up in a really small town in rural Georgia. While growing up, I would say first I wanted to be a teacher because those are the women and roles that I was exposed to. And I thought that would be so great to be speaking in front of people and sharing insights and growing young minds. That was my path for a little bit. And then as I grew up, President Reagan was the president at the time. And I actually wrote him a letter. That letter was all about saving the dolphins.

Because the Tuna industry at the time was bringing in a lot of dolphins into their nets. And I was really upset about that. I wrote the President a letter thinking I’m going to make a real difference in the world. And I just got back this book, in the mail about a tour of the White House. And I thought, that was exactly the response that I was hoping for. I thought that the President would answer my letter and really just say, hey you’ve made a difference here. For a little bit of time, I thought around that same time I started speaking competitively, I joined the local 4-H group.

I did a demonstration on how to protect strawberry plants from birds. I know we have one of the topics that we’ll be discussing today is new business and communication. But part of that is being competitive. And I play second in my first demonstration, my first official speech, and I want to go back and win. I started speaking competitively from a pretty young age. And then at that point, I thought maybe I want to write speeches for the President. Why not be there if I want to make a real difference in the world maybe when I grew up, I can write speeches for the President.

Then as I went through high school, I really found a love for science and biology. I decided I wanted to get pre-med looking at neurology because once again, people in your life have a major impression. My mom had 2 lower desk back surgeries when I was young. I was in the neurologist’s offices and having discussions and conversations, alongside my mom about what her surgery would be like, I was just really fascinated by that when I went to the University of Georgia, because there are very few options when you are raised in the south, and you have a certain loyalty for school.

I had a picture of Ugga, the adorable bulldog on the door of my bedroom for years. I just knew I was gonna go to the University of Georgia. And at the university, I was a part of the yearbook team, the Pandora, what a great name for a yearbook that had everything in it, too. And halfway through my university experience, I realized that I didn’t want to go pre-med.

And there were a couple of reasons for that. It wasn’t because of a lack of family support or interest, but it really was about what was making me happy and my studies specifically. I made a bit of a pivot to speech communication. Because once again, it was what I had really loved and had been with me for such a long time in my life.

During the interview process, taking that first step from university into your first role is so important because it shapes so much of your path. Many people will say, Don’t stress it too much. But I think you have to be really thoughtful about that. And just in the ways that I feel a lot of younger people today are making a lot more, I’m gonna say informed choices about college or whether or not to go to college even. For me, that first step was important. And I researched.

And I looked at about halfway through my interview process, there were insurance companies and PR agencies and I was thinking about going out of pharmaceutical sales because of my interest in the medical field, and then I was also taking German at the time. I thought I’m just gonna go to Germany and be in pharmaceutical sales. But as luck would have it, I learned about the world of public relations. And in that process, I did a bit of research on what are the top PR agencies in the US that cover medical devices, or health care, and communications popped up at the time and were located in Boston. In my college counseling office, I looked up how many UGA Alumni were working in the world of PR.

I contacted all of those people. And one of those people called me back. I say she called me back, I actually picked up the phone and called her. And even today, I have colleagues at that first job that really can’t believe she took your call. But I said hi, my name is Amy. And it was Sanders at the time. I’m calling from the University of Georgia. And she took my call and she said, Amy, how are you? It was the first thing she said.

And I said I’m great. I can’t believe, I got her on the phone. But I was just really interested in the world of public relations. I’m curious if you can tell me a little bit more about your experience. I know you went to the University of Georgia. We had this really beautiful conversation. And then she said, put in the cover letter that we talked about and send your resume to Boston and I would love to meet you in person for an interview.

If you’re coming to San Francisco, we want to talk. It was a lot of research kind of leading up to that step. But it put me in a place where my career started. And it was so important because, at the time in San Francisco when I moved, it was the technology boom.

And by the boom, I mean, I couldn’t find an apartment when I first landed there. One of my husband’s friends rented me a room. I’m not even kidding. I’m going all the way from Georgia to San Francisco to start my career. And Cecilia Roach really was instrumental in that. And Schwartz at the time was doing medical device PR as well as high tech. I was able to get some technology experience as well, which kind of put me on the path to future opportunities and the health aspect. The medical field and medical devices really did kind of feed that interest for me which was amazing.

And then from there, I was in San Francisco and the world of dotcom boom and PR is one of the typically the first things to go in a recession and I saw colleagues pack up their boxes and leave right and left. And at the time, I was just like keep your head down, work as hard as you can just, and keep your job. And things started getting better. I was like, what else could I be doing? I want to be in an agency long term and I ended up working for a human services agency the San Mateo County Human Services Agency.

For their director, I wrote speeches for her when she would go to the Capitol in California to speak, it was a bit more public information but I had done an internship in that area. And so from there, just a good friend called me because, at that time, the California budget deficit was hitting all the government employees in California on how this is going to impact us. At the time, I said, how does this impact me as well. And she said I can guarantee your job for six months. But after that, I just don’t know. And I said, thanks for being honest.

And I’m not even kidding. I went back to my desk, and I sat down, and I had a message. And it was from a friend from Georgia, from 4-H who I had met at a really young age. And she said, Amy, I’m in San Francisco. I’m working for this great PR firm and we’re hiring. You would be perfect for it based on your past experience. That put me into another agency setting which I loved, once again, in the world of tech, but I loved boiling down the message.

Whether it was a medical device, or whether it was technology, it really came to how do we communicate in such a way that the average person gets it. We can speak in highly technical language, or it can be very specific to a certain. But it really is blind to that message that everyone can understand. And I lived in San Francisco for a bit more time and then started having kids and my husband’s the youngest of nine, they’re all from Seattle. At one point, we moved up and that’s when I got into the world of consulting and project work between kids and we did.

My husband and I made a very conscious decision to have him continue working full time and to have me really focused on the kids. When they are so young and they are so vulnerable, you want to be there for them. And fortunately, in my role, I was able to continue consulting with the agency that I had been with, which was great. They would send me work. And that’s kind of how it started. I was reading and consulting. And how do I put together proposals?

My kids were older and my youngest is in kindergarten at the time, and I decided to go back full time and went into the world of startups doing something completely different, not PR. It was more along the lines of talent development, and recruiting HR. I’m gonna say culture, how do we build a culture that really gets people excited. Then kind of brings you up to where I am now.

I worked for a startup and I worked for a digital marketing agency which I loved. I did some executive searches in between there. And so all along the way, though, I have to say communication really stood out. No matter what I do, I know that this is my core talent. And this is what I love doing. When I’m in the zone, this is what I meant to do. And I love it. That’s kind of the long story of my career and where I’ve been.

Natalia 14:03 That’s a long story. But it’s super interesting because I think now in 2021, it’s absolutely obvious that you have to have a PR like that you basically build your business on PR and on public trust if you need to develop a brand. Of course, there are also zero brands and companies but most of the companies today actually work on their brand, even micro-companies. It’s so important today to appeal to your customers.

That’s also why almost every company has a blog on the website today because they need to present their know-how to the potential clients and today it’s obvious but I don’t think it was like that 20 years ago when you were starting, probably approach was very different. I am curious. Probably lots of this culture of doing business, especially online changed a lot. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? How did the nature of your job change over the years? Like, what were the most important problems to solve 20 years ago versus now?

Amy Cunningham 15:21 That’s a really good question. I have to say, working in the world of PR, I had the opportunity to work with a large number of businesses in different areas in different fields but also like cutting edge, there were some startups that were just before their time had this big vision but the world wasn’t quite ready for them. And I think, that was really fascinating to me because I can relate it to kind of the world of PR and the tools that we have now. When we first started out, we would make clips of articles.

If you had an actual newspaper article of your client, let’s just say they’re on the front page of The New York Times, you create this clip that looked even better than it did in the newspaper because these papers can be grainy and stuff. We would put it on this crystal clear, bright white paper. And we’d actually physically cut out the header, like the New York Times logo, and put it up at the top, and we glue it and we even use white-out. I don’t know if anyone remembers that.

But it went through the copy process to ensure that any little miss perfections or imperfections were taken care of. And flash forward to now, there’s an actual company that will do this for you. And it’s all online, right? Like they have the logos pre-loaded. they can build a club that looks seamless and gorgeous. And you don’t even have to touch paper which I think is fascinating. In that one example, you can see how just like the world of PR has changed over time.

But in the same instance, some of the businesses that we were working with, were starting out. We had this one group. It was kind of like a request for a quote, almost. There have been several scents that have been successful in that world. But it really was the case of how do you streamline finding basic business services all in one place? And realistically, it just hadn’t been built. Some of these businesses weren’t completely digital yet are online and the ways that they needed to even communicate to be a part of the platform.

With that technology, I think, sometimes we have these great, wonderful ideas as entrepreneurs, but the timing and the timeline aren’t right. And I like to compare that two jobs. Because oftentimes, like when I would interview people for a role, they would be a really incredible candidate and they might have the right skill set. But the timing just wasn’t right. Maybe it had nothing to do with them or their skills or who they were as a person. But at the end of the day, we had to say no because the time wasn’t right for the business to bring them on.

It didn’t mean that they wouldn’t be right, six months down the road, or maybe two weeks down the road, depending on how quickly the startup was moving. But I think it kind of brings to the forefront of everything that we think about and how things change. The timing is so important and impeccable. And there is a stroke of luck. And that if you believe in luck, and the other piece of it is just being resilient and tenacious.

As a person, if the time isn’t right, for me to be a speechwriter for the president when I’m super young, maybe it will come at a later time. And obviously, when you get older you think, I don’t know if I’d want to do that anymore. Would my views align with the current president? I do think time really does play a key factor and how things have changed but that being said, I firmly believe the world of creativity has absolutely exploded in such a way that the tools that we can use as humans have really expanded our options for creativity.

I love the story of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel and how they actually had to convince him to paint it in the first place is like, no, and I had never done anything like that? Look it up. It’s so great. It’s such a good story. But I love that because in some ways, whether we have other humans pushing our boundaries, or maybe we have technology because I think even as a writer, you have artificial intelligence now, where we’re writing books, too. It’s not quite there yet.

But, how do we use technology to really push our own levels of creativity? It’s tempting to say, as a writer, why don’t I just have to write my first draft and see how it goes and then just tweak it. How much time could we save? How many brilliant books could we publish from writers just to give them that jumpstart? I think we are in a place where we’re working a lot more hand in hand with technology across all industries than maybe we ever thought possible 15,20 years ago?

Natalia 21:03 That’s a better philosophical approach and I love it. I also wonder a lot that there are different aspects of the job market and how it develops. And technology is the most predictable part. There are a few main factors that influence the job market, the jobs that are created, and the future professions that will appear. One of them is unpredictable events, like Corona, like no one could tell two years ago that it will happen. These are the factors we cannot really model and predict because like you never know, what else can happen.

And when there is politics I would say semi-predictable because you always have a few contenders to win like in the US, you only have two parties, and depending on which one of them takes the White House, like takes the Senate rights you have Senate in the US and the White House, then the law will change and that will incentivize businesses or the opposite. I mean, until the day of the elections, you cannot really tell who wins.

I would say it is semi-predictable and there is this technology part, which is, I think, the most predictable part of it because once the new technologies are created, then they will create new demand. And they will also automatize certain processes that many of them were kind of service by people. Certain jobs will be eliminated but there will be new jobs on those new platforms. You can kind of conceptualize how in which direction will push the job market, at least to a certain extent.

I think that really understanding technologies, and being able to work with them is the key to being able to navigate the job market because that’s the only source of information that can help us predict which direction we are developing as a society. I know if I express myself. Anyways, that was a bit off a topic outside. I would like to come back to your job in PR.

I’m curious how, since today in 2021, there is increased interest in this type of profession since many more remote jobs, and then if people actually now take it into account for the first time in their life, they could actually go for a remote job and they kind of get used to this concept. And I think even after the lockdown ends, there will be many more people working remotely than before and PR is a discipline where, first of all, there’s a great demand because businesses finally realize that PR is quite crucial for building a brand.

This is also an area where you can work remotely. That’s why there is an increased interest also in this type of position. I would like to ask you a little bit about the reality and daily lives of this type of profession. What does your typical week look like?

Amy Cunningham 25:06 I can tell you one of the main focuses of PR is kind of reputation management. When you think about a brand and how it’s perceived and even track record of its success, or its failures, I like to say PR kind of straddles the line between promotion and persuasion. Do you have this world as a consumer, all these different choices to make, even what shampoo to buy? Or what bar of soap or even like, the tea in your coffee mug, what are you going to have that day?

And a lot of it does hinge on trust. How do you assess trust? I’m gonna say intellectual place. And sadly enough, PR really got its start along the lines of propaganda. I’m gonna say, historically, Hitler was like a PR perfectionist. He knew that there was going to be a way to infiltrate the minds of people to get them on board with a certain idea. PR has some dark roots. That is to be sure. But today, it is important for a lot of reasons. Because as humans, how we are building trust in 2020 and beyond is really a big question.

People used to read newspapers and believe that everything in this is true. That’s not necessarily the case as we’ve seen. It’s been proven. How much do we trust the media? How much do we trust newspapers? How much do we trust our friends on social media? Influencers and social media have really taken off because the timing is right for us to maybe question our traditional news sources and then also level up or respect the opinion of our friends. And a large part of my day when I get started is to understand the news, what’s happening today?

How is that gonna impact anything that could touch our business? And just kind of understanding what the current climate is really important. New sources are important to me and I keep my hand on the pulse. I love the Associated Press. I love NPR. I love fast, quick, and truthful sources as much as possible. I think from there, working with a team throughout the day, they’re building messages on building trust with a particular product or brand because I work in the world of hospitality and the travel industry has been dramatically impacted because of COVID.

People don’t want to travel. There are a lot more questions about the hotel I’m staying in and how safe the restaurant where I’m having this meal and a large part of our communication has been about protocol, as it relates to COVID-19 or infectious disease. Once again, I find myself in the world of the medical touching my communications work which I love. I didn’t love the pandemic happening, for sure. But there have been some silver linings for businesses, in particular, a lot of businesses have been hard hit.

But at the same time, a lot of businesses have pivoted and have become very successful. That’s kind of understanding what it takes to pivot in a time like this is really fascinating to you. A lot of what I do on a day-to-day basis could fall under the category of crisis PR, or, as we like to call it, situational solutions. We help people during a time when people maybe aren’t feeling safe, or they need to be reassured that things are gonna be okay.

And because of my medical background, I’m saying that something is 100% safe because we have FDA processes even for medical devices when they go through an approval process and testing, etc. Rapid adoption has to be proven that it is safe enough. In the world of hospitality, the number one thing is we always put our guests first. And we always are thinking with the guests’ experience in mind. How is this impacting? How is it shaping? How the world is coming back to travel?

One of the key areas that we’ve been working in is specific social media influencers because when COVID hit, a lot of journalists and reporters, especially travel or were reassigned to cover COVID or something else. My day-to-day is really digging into what is the news of the day? How is our business running? It’s to ensure that its reputation remains as guarded and protected and thriving as possible. I’m gonna call it reputation.

I think that’s really important. And that could manifest its way and writing for an executive or supporting them in a speech, or commenting on a topic is timely. How are we representing what’s happening? I think back to George Floyd, and then even now, like, what’s happening in the world of, I’m just gonna say, race, because many people think it’s a bad word, let’s not talk about race. But I think the time has come when we all need to be advocates for other people who are maybe in the minority and can’t speak for themselves.

Once again, we have a voice to represent them. And so our team is looking at everything we do from a visual standpoint. We are representing all of our guests that come to our hotels, so that’s really important for us kind of making sure that whatever is happening, and the conscious collective of our guests are being thought about and then ensuring that their experience is as good as it can be.

Because at this point, we’re all judges of anything we decide to do. We have the choice to make on where we travel. We have the choice to make on the type of clothing we wear or the coffee we drink, or we donate, our time and our funds. I think we’re becoming a lot more discerning and I think that’s a very good thing because it makes not just people but companies accountable as well.

Natalia 32:48 How do your daily duties look like? As you mentioned before, you have to be on track with what’s happening in the media and make sure that the company image doesn’t hurt from the communications like public communications. Can you tell us a little bit more just for those people who might potentially be interested in working in PR, but just don’t know how it looks behind the scenes?

Amy Cunningham 33:24 It’s transitioned a little bit because most of our team is remote. We used to all be sitting in an office and just a desk or two away from each other. That collaboration has transformed a little bit during this time. But I can tell you my typical schedule. I’m an early bird. I wake up pretty early because I’m also a runner. I wake up and go-to exercise. I try not to look at my phone before. I’m done with the exercise but I do like to kind of see what’s happening, and check the news.

Then my day typically starts around 8:30 In the morning. I ran through like probably 10 to 20 minutes and then look at the calendar of the meetings that I have. I’m typically in a lot of meetings. And when people say, I don’t like meetings, that sounds terrible. I actually enjoy these meetings. And I can tell you a little bit content of them to you. It could be a meeting with a hotel team. That’s basically the general manager of a hotel as well as their food and beverage director and then anyone else that the GM wants to bring into that conversation.

We talk about room rates and how the business is trending. Their occupancy has been based on percentages. We start almost every conversation with how is the hotel running? Is there anything we need to kind of be aware of, and then we dive into marketing initiatives, campaigns, things that we’re doing that could entail? We have an email that we’re building and the whole theme is a travel bucket list, what does that look like for you. We might be partnering with a couple of other destinations or I’m gonna say specifically properties into that than looking at visuall.

Does it communicate the story, kind of picking it apart? And some of those meetings as well, we’re looking ahead, two to three weeks and social media, we pull up a calendar and we look at every single post and not always but the general understanding of where we’re tracking is what’s posting, then that way, if we need a photo, let’s say for we just celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. We asked one hotel, can you get us our super cool green cocktail. We’d love to have that shot.

There is a strategy and how we’re posting, and kind of meeting that strategy and the needs of the property as well, that might be the case that, our marketing manager says to the social person, we’d like to also do an ad along with our recent promotion. When we send the email out, we have the social ad going out at the same time. Is it going to be good for the business that isn’t going to drive revenue? What did we do for Mother’s Day last year? What does that look like? How can we compare some of the stats and set a goal for ourselves for this year?

We have meetings and that’s just one example of a hotel, right. With Columbia hospitality, I’m gonna say a pretty diverse portfolio we’re working across, tells them resorts, golf courses, residential properties. I’m gonna say iconic buildings in another area. And then conference centers. Just imagine how conference centers have been impacted? What are they doing during this time, when maybe they can’t have hundreds of people there for the conference? They’re pivoting and they are moving the way, how can we do that?

How can we broadcast virtually? How can we bring in a management team, it really is a lot of conversation around. I’m gonna say, supporting businesses, advising them, and then really seeing how can that marketing and communications piece complement the things are doing day to day, but also identifying a business need. A great example of this is I actually was talking to a hotel group and we really want to have an amazing breakfast program. We want to have brunch in our neighborhood, of like, within 20 miles. We just want to be that destination.

I love that because they realize this is a need. They have families that live and work in that area. And they know, like, all the breakfast options are terrible. As people want to get out more and go out for brunch, or maybe meet up with their friends, or have a special occasion, that destination becomes top of mind. After lots of meetings, I try to put in some breaks. And I’m going to call them my mindfulness breaks where I can really just think about the properties that I’m working with and what’s coming up ahead.

I’m heading into these meetings. I know what the agenda is. I know what we’re going to be discussing and also come to each meeting with some value-added. I think at the end of the day, it’s important for us, in any industry, in any meeting to come in and have a voice and bring some value. And then I try to wrap my day around 5:30 PM. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, I’ll get calls and say, Amy, we have this issue, can you help us, or we just got a call from a local press outlet, they want to come on-site and have an interview.

These things happen, like on a pretty regular basis. I timed my day in such a way that if I need to go, I can do it, that’s just a little bit of a snapshot but it could be anything from an attending a photoshoot for we’re ensuring that the photographer has the shot list and you know the direction and the models or whatever the case may be, to checking email to being in lots of meetings, and at the end of the day, I think you just have to make time for yourself also to really focus on if it’s items to review.

I do a lot of editing and that comes my way and also a lot of writing. And then leaving space, though, for creative brainstorming, and really big ideas. I want to ask a team member of ours, what’s the best experience you’ve had working at Columbia hospitality. And he shared this beautiful story of our CEO asked everyone to come into the conference room, and they did brainstorming on coming up with a new name for a hotel. I love that at the center of everything as much as we’re growing as a business and as a company and as an advisory group.

I think we’re very much in the world of consulting. It’s not so much that we can stop what we’re doing and like have a brainstorm and brainstorms are a little bit different. In the last brainstorming we had, we were coming up with some ideas for a campaign that we’re about to launch. And in that brainstorm, I could tell the team wasn’t like 100% feeling and I wasn’t either. Everything that was going on around us and the world has done a bit crazy but in those meetings, I think it’s important to also think about who else should be here?

Should we bring someone from a different part of the business that thinks different from us to kind of inject some alternative points and viewpoints into it? Online brainstorming is really interesting to you because you really start to see, that it’s still a good forum for people to bounce ideas off each other. And I look forward to the time that we can do it in person again.

Natalia 42:17 It’s a very interesting topic. Because what I always hear from people working in communications and social media is that finding this spot for yourself to calm down and reconnect with yourself is really hard. Because this type of job requires constant attention and it’s like a lot of information coming your way. And you have to constantly be plugged into the system and respond on.

Your working memory is so overloaded for the whole day, then it’s really hard then to be creative at the end of the day. And so it probably really requires a lot of like self-management, in terms of cleaning your working memory from all this information. Do you have any techniques for that? Do you do meditation? Or maybe running is your way of cleaning your mind?

Amy Cunningham 43:22 It’s a great question. I know that people function in different ways and people’s brains are as unique as we are different people but for me, I find that the best, most clear ideas come to me usually in the morning. I know some people are night owls and their best work comes late at night. For me, running is like meditation, quite honestly. And I started running when I lost my dad. And I knew that he wouldn’t want me to just have a glass of wine and be sad.

I thought, how can I channel this grief in a positive way. I would get up super early and start running in the dark. And when I did that, it did a couple of things. One, it allowed me to process anything, my emotion, like sadness, anger, whatever it is you’re feeling because there are going to come those times in work as well in our careers where we have an emotion that comes into play and what does that look like to process and I found that running is really good at processing that emotion specifically.

Does it help clear the mind? Absolutely. You have to go into it with a clean mind today or I’m gonna listen to my favorite rap music while I’m running. You can kind of calibrate what is your meeting in that moment and that space. But running really has been an amazing outlet for me for that particular reason to clear my head to work out emotion, whatever that looks like. And it could be super personal or it could be work-related. It could be just what’s going on in the world.

There are other ways that I process it during the workday. And I want to share that too because I think it’s really important. When you’re working remotely because there are times when you may be thinking or feeling something in a moment, and you have to almost check yourself and have a balance with it. For example, I was talking to a team member one day and it was just her and me. And some of the things that she was saying, I was for some reason getting a little fired up about and by fired up, I mean a little angry.

I actually listened to everything she had to say. I basically told myself, okay, and this moment to calm myself, I’m gonna listen to every single word she says and I’m gonna take copious notes on it and just let it sink in almost like a sponge as I am absorbing everything she’s saying and at that moment, I knew I’m checking my emotions. I’m going to put them on a shelf right now because I could feel the anger kind of start to boil. And it wasn’t anything to do with her personally. It was just the situation.

I put it on a shelf. And then I listen to what she had to say. And even before I responded, I said, I’m going to need a little bit of time. And I’d like to think about everything you’ve said and then I’d like for us to have a conversation about it a little bit later on. But I knew at that moment, that anything I said would have been completely unfiltered. And it would have come across the wrong way or could have been misinterpreted. I had the awareness of myself to basically take everything I was thinking and feeling.

I had this visual shelf or I put everything inside this box, almost like a sponge as I was absorbing it. And I just set it on the shelf. And then after we had our conversation, I got up from my desk. I went out. I got some fresh air. And I visually took that off the shelf and I unpacked it and I said, why was I feeling this way at that moment? Why would these emotions in particular bubble up? How much of it was about the situation and about the person? Or was it something else?

Are there questions I need to come back to the person I was communicating with to really get more information to make a better assessment? But at the end of the day, I was able to check the immersion part and cut it completely out. When it came to me giving a recommendation to my coworker on how to handle a situation, it was crystal clear and it was informed. And it was really thoughtful.

Whether in a moment, you’re getting overwhelmed by work, or you’re processing a certain emotion, I think it’s good to visualize, like doing something with it, you know, because if you can’t visualize it, or put it on like an imaginary shelf, or take a moment to breathe. It almost feels damaging to your insides, the anger, the upsetness, the hurt, whatever emotion is coming along with it can be pretty intense.

Another thing that I do, you talked about just having a lot of things in your mind, I write a lot of things down, even though we work in the world of OneNote, you can put it on your calendar or you can have it on your phone. I have a note section on my phone that I love the Notes app. I love it because I use that as well. And I think that’s important because there are times when we have so many thoughts running through our minds that they’re all important thoughts too. Once again, you might have a thought and it’s not the right time, but it might be the right time later.

I like to write things down and I also like to go through each of my days, like, how many properties do I attach? How many people do I work with? And then really assess each one by one, just carving out that time to say, what attention or what can I add in this particular area is going to push the envelope and that can be personal to you.

I want to learn more about X, Y, or Z. Where can I find the time to learn more about that? And especially because the world of communication and technology is moving so quickly, it’s part of our jobs to understand what are the tools at our disposal? And how can we be more efficient with our time?

Natalia 50:26 That’s a very important thing regarding the emotions at work, I get the problem. Every single time you show your emotions, when they are like negative emotions, it’s you actually losing some game. There’s never a good output from such a situation. And I think everyone has different ways of handling emotions at work. What I also hear often as a piece of advice is to just name your emotions.

And when you name them, you also kind of get this awareness that let’s calm down because I’m angry and that also helps. I always feel that the best approach for me personally, is to treat professional life as a game and just take an emotional psyche apart. It’s a game in which you score points and every single task is the amount of points and every single little accomplishment. When it comes to interacting with people, every single time I lose nerves is actually minus points.

You have to score points. You can’t lose points on such stupidity. You just add 100 points doing that. You can’t just lose them now in a stupid way. And for me, this works best actually. Just gamify everything and then gamify your emotions and then I can come down pretty easily but it also took me a while to come up with something that works personally for me because just telling myself that it’s not a good idea to show emotions didn’t really work for me. I had to come up with something else.

But I think there is always a way just have to test yourself and sooner or later, we’ll come up with something that helps. And it’s a good piece of advice you would share and I think it will work for a lot of people. It’s very important, first of all, to do the self-management in this department. I have a lot of questions too for you. I hope that we can still talk for a little bit. Just coming back to the world of PR for a while, I have a question that is related to building an image for a company.

And this is related also to the common fear that people thinking of their own business half and which is almost every large company has haters of some sort. It sometimes feels like, as soon as you become successful, there is no way on earth that you will still keep your good PR in one way or another. There are so many different ways how journalists can turn your company’s image to ashes and the bigger you become the more successful it’s.

It’s so hard to still keep a good PR and keep yourself away from haters and since this’s actually a fear that prevents many people from trying to build their own business they are afraid of bad PR so much that they never really start the company. My question for you would be, do you think it’s possible to develop a business in a way that you secure yourself from any problems in PR, or is it always partially random?

There are some exciting circumstances that are independent of you that can always bring your company image down? Is there any way of building your company image from the start to make sure that your PR is impeccable and you don’t fall into any type of trouble with it?

Amy Cunningham 54:50 That’s a great question. Haters are gonna hate that fact. That’s very true. And I love how you ask about it being fearless in business because there is that fear factor of what if they don’t like my product? Or what if we get a bad review? Or what if our product breaks and hurts someone? There’s always that question in the back of your mind. I will say there are case studies of success that you can follow a model and emulate to become a media darling, where the media just love you.

I can say all of that starts with establishing values for your company for your business. And those values for many businesses, drive every single business decision. For instance, if a company has a value of honesty, in every single situation, it sets them up for success because what happens when a company isn’t honest, and I can automatically think about three to five brands, right?

In every single case, it has come back to just tarnish their image to really bite them in a way that has either driven their company out of business or damaged their reputation to a point where they haven’t been able to come back. There are some brands that have gone through, let’s just say their CEO goes to jail and comes out of it. And it’s still a success because the product was so good. But still, people who felt like that CEO is being honest, dishonest, or whatever, there are different camps. It’s still controversial.

I’m sure every decision they make, even from, like, should we send out an advertisement? Or should we do a campaign on something? Does it reflect your brand? And does it reflect your brand in the way that we perceive it aspirationally? Does it reflect our brand realistically and what people actually think about us right now? And that difference between your brand sets now and where you want them to be can make all the difference and how you’re talking about it.

But that being said, what are the ways that you can really set up a brand for success? I think number one is to know your values, and follow them with every business decision to build the relationships early, whether that’s with the press, with your business partners, or with your customer. People want that authenticity from the company they’re buying from. I just purchased something over Instagram not too long ago.

And it came to me that it was like a pretty small, new company. I’m just buying a pair of shoes. And that’s literally what I thought when I made that purchase. But when it arrived, the shoes were impeccably wrapped. And inside the package was a really nice, fancy paper envelope that thanked me for purchasing from them.

And I thought I’m definitely going to think again when I purchase a pair of shoes because they took the time to let me know that that purchase was important to them and I think the way that we market and the way that we sell and the way we are perceived, can be radically influenced by that experience of knowing if we’re not just going to pack the shoes up and send them in a box. We’re going to do something different. And we’re going to make it unique to this person who’s purchasing from us. We do have the information now to do those things.

How much data about ourselves personally is out there does make a difference. I think with every business decision you make, you can really enhance how you’re being perceived. And as long as you have a formula and you have that set of values that’s guiding you each step of the way, I think that’s the best kind of right foot to get started on. And then the other piece of it, I’m going to say confidence. How much do you really believe in your idea? How much do you really believe in your product? Because you’re gonna have to fight for it.

Because the business landscape is competitive and if you don’t have the confidence to start out, it’s hard. And how do you foster that confidence with someone who has a great product? And they know it’s great but they’re a little shy. They’re a little timid. And sometimes it’s building that brand personality. Maybe that brand personality has to be bold. It has to be out there because of the inventor or the entrepreneur. Maybe that’s not their own personal personality.

It’s adopting what it takes for that business for that product to be successful. And sometimes you can almost transfer this confidence or this feeling into your own brand personality. People talk about birthing a child or birthing of business, if you are kind of like fostering whatever that is and being able to separate yourself as an individual, I think that’s important. Because you take things super personally, especially through social media.

There are some people out there that have a lot of vented frustration that’s pent up and they like to unleash it. I think it’s kind of knowing that we can respond to this too. I think you have to be careful in your responses. But if you’re responding as a brand that cares, more often than not, they’re going to listen and they’re going to give you some space. Then I think the response in and of itself, once again, goes back to your values.

Are we going to be accountable for maybe something that we did go wrong? Are we going to own it? Are we going, to be honest about it? Are we going to be inclusive? I think that’s another core brand that, when we think about values, really does go hand in hand with everything that we do today. But knowing what those values are, I loved my whole startup experience because the CEO was absolutely charismatic, confident, and energetic.

We had this set of tenants. If you’re gonna have a mantra, if you’re gonna have a set of values, I think it does help guide you and support you and build the confidence in the times where you will get hit, and it will hurt. But how do you come out of that stronger?

Natalia 1:02:44 I’d like to mention the book, The Subtle Art of not giving a fuck, which is, I think, relevant here. What this book is all about is that you will always fear something because that’s how we are as humans paranoid by nature because that’s how we evolved. And you have to choose your pains, like choose what you want to struggle for because you will definitely struggle. If you want to stop fearing hate, you have to have something even more important to care about.

And that actually helped me because I felt before I started this YouTube channel, I was also fearing and because I can see how much hate there might be on YouTube, I felt what do you feel more about to fear about these anonymous people who might be sad people just eating popcorn somewhere, from the couch and just plugging the buttons or, pressing the buttons or are you more fear about the future of your company and whether or not you will meet all these awesome people that you might talk to here on this channel.

I really care more about that. That’s why I stopped fearing for these anonymous haters that are all around YouTube. I think that mindset can also help. But still, I think it’s quite a valid fear to have because we live in times of globalization and sometimes just one unhappy customer can completely flop your business. And I like the example of the fire festival. I don’t know if you’ve heard that story but it was this Infamous Festival and also promoted perfectly on social media.

I think it’s an example of PR that went way over the stop and just like over advertising the event by miles but then one Twitter post with some sandwich that will serve out the festival goes viral, and that was not a supreme quality sandwich, to say the least. And basically, that was what flopped this festival on the media completely. That was just an example of how this one post by someone who has a few 100 followers can get viral and completely destroy your multimillion initiative.

And I think it’s still a valid fear to have. I mean, I’m still at this point myself that I didn’t experience absolutely any adversity yet, but I know that sooner or later is going to happen. I don’t know how I will react to this because I never experienced this. But I know that it must be hard for businesses, I mean, on the same face that I feel that values to some extent prevent you from disasters, but they’re still just human mistakes.

What happens if one of your employees just makes a mistake in the implementation of the product, let’s say, and then you just overlook this and random events can happen. And even with the values you have today, they can always be some random event that just results in some unhappy customers potentially. I think, in the long run, it’s really hard to prevent yourself 100% from such events.

I also think that it’s very important. You should have some crisis management. You should know from the very start, what is the procedure in case something goes wrong? When I have my first batch of haters, I will call you?

Amy Cunningham 1:07:20 Hopefully, that doesn’t happen. However, I do think to your point, in the book that you reference, there is a subtle art of just saying, I’m not gonna listen to what you have to say because I know that it’s not true or it’s just negative or it’s coming from a place of hurt, or whatever the case may be. And it’s interesting too. I think about how a sandwich can totally disrupt a successful event.

Once again, that goes back to, like you said it’s one minor detail or it could be one minor mistake that a team member makes or whatever that looks like but I do think there are companies that are taking on those challenges really well. We just had a negative comment on Twitter, are we going to respond or not? What are we going to say, even at that moment, and always 20, 20 as we used to say, I guess it’s like not anymore.

But could we have said or done something in that instance, that would have set us up for more success? I think of companies like, there are some out there that have a really quirky and cool approach to everything they do. One of the things that they do is they do have a response for the haters already.

They are this ready to go, like, come on haters. Just bring whatever you have and we’ll be ready for it. But that’s not 100% all the time, of course. You have to be fearless and confident in what you’re putting out there and then I think the other piece of it is just a start. many people don’t start because of that fear. And I was able to look through some of your past conversations and I really enjoyed that.

Because I thought, what she’s doing is really informing people about paths they can take and their career and there’s something really fantastic about that and life-affirming. It’s my hope that you keep going and if you do experience any negativity, let me know I’m happy to help.

Natalia 1:09:52 Thank you so much. I will never regret this. Like I don’t know, what they’ll be doing in 10 years. Maybe something more towards business development. I’m not sure yet but I’m very happy that what I’m doing right now. I think I cannot imagine a better job at the moment, honestly speaking. It was a good choice. Maybe we should slowly start wrapping up. There’s still one question that I really need to ask you which is about your job at eBay. I remember you were one of the first employees of eBay in the early days.

Amy Cunningham 1:10:48 No, I just helped them with their PR. I wasn’t an official employee. That’s okay. I was part of the team that helped launch eBay’s PR and they went on a media tour early on, and it was when they weren’t sure what was gonna happen, was it the right time for them to launch?

Was it the right time for new people to be ready to adopt this whole idea of just putting items online for purchase? It’s just sitting in their house, and maybe there’s a collector that would also be interested in that. And eBay, in the beginning, was a super small company and it just exploded. And I think there are successes to be found from that, for sure.

Natalia 1:11:47 Fantastic. The last question I have for you today is, do you have some general career advice that you might give to young people who are now at the beginning of their professional careers, some general self-navigation advice, or that stems from your personal experience, or just general wisdom that you would like to share with us?

Amy Cunningham 1:12:17 I mentioned focus earlier. But I think it’s important when you think about your career and where you start out, don’t be afraid to have that first career step, I think is first and foremost, just anything to get started is going to put you on a path. I would say, there are a couple of things that I think about for anyone who’s looking for even just a new role, or a new career, you have to look at your life as it is and how you want it to change and how you want it to morph, I think is really important.

When I went back to work after having kids, for instance, I want it to be within three miles of my kid’s school, in case of natural disaster in case of whatever. My job search was within three miles of their school and it seems pretty simple. But that cut a lot of opportunities out there. It got my job search hyper-focused and knowing like even geography can be one particular lens that you’re looking through.

But look at your search through, how can you learn and grow in this opportunity? Is it where you want to be now? And is it going to support where you’re heading? And then third, I would say is really just is it the right fit for you? It’s kind of trusting a little bit of your intuition of the people that you meet. And how do they answer your questions? I think that’s something really important that the whole interview process is a mutual selection process.

We think, they didn’t pick me and this might not be the right industry for me but don’t take it that way. It may be the case that the timing wasn’t right or something else. I would take each rejection with a grain of salt. And keep going if you know for sure that that’s where you want to be. And fourth I guess, is don’t give up. If it’s a particular job in a particular industry that you know you’re meant for, but if it’s not happening, don’t give up if you are meant to be in that space.

Natalia 1:15:01 We’re just wrapping up. Perfect. Thank you so much, Amy, for sharing all this information and all your insights with us. Thank you for being with us today. And to all of you guys who came successfully came to the end of this episode, thank you for watching. And if you’d like to get more of this type of content, please subscribe to this channel and we are looking forward to your comments and questions. Have a great day.

Amy Cunningham 1:15:31 Thank you so much.

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Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2021, May 23rd). On Building a Career in Public Relations: How To Build A Brand in 2021? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/career-development-strategies-e053-career-in-public-relations-how-to-build-a-brand-in-2021/

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