In this month’s Insider Interview, we speak with Jaya Bohlmann. Jaya is president of Designing Communications, managing director at PR Talent, a professor of communication at the University of Maryland College Park, and more.
We’ll start with an easy one: What’s the secret to a successful, long-term career in PR?
- Get an education in communication at the master’s level if possible. Studying other disciplines (business, journalism) can be helpful, but only through a formal communication education can you master the basics of interacting with audiences in two-way engagements with targeted content through a variety of channels. And …
- Develop a mindset of lifelong learning. The communication field is changing fast and is no longer distinctly PR, marketing, advertising, corporate communication, nor digital media. It’s all integrated, with ever-evolving sets of tools and techniques.
- Network with experts in the field—both of PR and the vertical market you specialize in (healthcare, entertainment, technology, nonprofits, government, etc).
- Embrace change and keep challenging yourself in a well-managed way.
- Know yourself, including your values, and the special skills and interests you bring to the marketplace. This requires also knowing the marketplace, so stay in touch with the pulse of our profession.
- Write a professional brand statement that includes your value proposition, and share it widely.
Your hometown is Washington, D.C. In your view, how has the communications industry here changed over the years?
D.C.’s power base has traditionally been Hill and Fed-related, and communication in this town used to be very heavily public affairs and issues and crisis management. Those are still central to business and communication here, and that won’t change. (I also have lived in Southern California with its entertainment center, and Chicago, with its emphasis on manufacturing and consumer goods.) I have seen D.C. expand over the years with the evolution of technology and the selection of the D.C. area as the site for major companies like AOL and MicroStrategy. In PR, we worked with start-ups and preparing for IPOs and more emphasis on business overall. We also felt a spirit of innovation and risk-taking that led to more creative campaigns, bigger budgets and splashier communication programs. From tech, this spilled over to healthcare, nonprofits and other traditional DC industries. Then we saw major media companies build their presences here, followed by major hospitality companies (Hilton joining Marriott to create a large industry presence in this area). That added to consumer marketing and PR needs.
Again, all of this created and expanded communication environment in the D.C. area.
How can a PR pro at any level get on a recruiter’s radar?
Simple. Reach out to them with thoughtful, creative, well-crafted resume, cover letter and a LinkedIn profile to match. These should include your value proposition and brand statement. Be clear about your goals and needs and explain those to them. Recruiters want to know about you so they can tell their clients about you. Help them help you.
You teach communications at the University of Maryland College Park. What’s the most important lesson you teach?
You’re in charge of your own experience. You hold agency in your life. As students (and I’ve been one many times in my career), we can give our power to our professors or even fellow students. Whether in the classroom or office, we should speak up about the things we want and need. Enlist mentors as well as teachers—people who believe in you and want great things for you.
You’ve held numerous roles throughout your career. How do you know when to start down a new path, with a new organization?
Be clear why you’re in any given role. Have a set of goals and objectives for each position and when you’ve achieved those, it’s time to move on. Sometimes, before you’ve achieved those goals and objectives, it can also be time to move on. These are times when your work environment (team members, bosses, culture) does not meet your needs on a values level. Be clear about those for yourself and be courageous in finding or creating a better professional situation for yourself. I have built my career so that it began with technical skill as a generalist in healthcare and nonprofits; grew to managerial levels with telecom and entertainment; and then leadership roles in hospitality. I also worked in several vertical markets and in many organizational structures (several types and sizes of agencies, as an independent consultant, in-house corporate communication, nonprofit, associations). I am leveraging my experiences there to now focus on the people side of our profession—engagement, internal communication, change management, culture. I also am a certified career coach, specializing in the communication professions. My slogan is that I build brands from the inside out.
Having worked with so many clients as a recruiter and communicator, what are the must-have skills for communicators today?
- All things digital. Social media, blogging, measurement, paid and earned online media, SEO, content production (video, especially).
- Superlative writing and editing.
- Strategic planning.
- Ability to reach all kinds and types of audiences.
Is it better to be a communications generalist or specialist?
Communication is a matrixed profession now in terms of function and industry, and becoming more so. You have to be both a generalist and a specialist. For example, if you are part of a corporate communication team in a company, you need to be an expert about the industry of your company (specialist) and you must be well-versed in various functions (crisis communication, digital media. Internal communication, marketing, speechwriting, etc), which makes you a generalist. If you are in an agency or are a consultant, you likely are more valuable if you have worked in a variety of industries (generalist), and then you might be more likely to fill a specialized functional niche (because agencies are structured like this more). Hybrid roles are common, and integrated communication is the now and the future.
You volunteer as the COO of Community Uplift Projects International. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I’m so pleased you asked! This is very close to my heart. My parents began this organization 30 years ago in south India. It provides rescue, a home and adoption for abandoned babies and children—as well as public health education and medical care. I serve on the board of directors, and help to raise money and awareness about the plight of these families. We’ve provided help and hope for hundreds of families over the years. My family has a spirit of giving back to communities in need, and I share that value.