In this month’s Insider Interview, we speak with Kristin Patterson Jones. Kristin is a senior communications manager at Harris Corporation, a leading technology innovator with customers in about 100 countries. She holds a master’s degree in journalism and a bachelor’s degree in government and politics from the University of Maryland. Kristin supports the space and intelligence systems business within Harris.
How has your journalism training benefited you in your communications career?
Journalism is a great education in many respects, but it’s especially so in the communications field. It benefits me almost every day, from daily meetings to major communication campaigns, as I’ve developed an ability to be clear with my thoughts and ready to answer the who, what, where, when, why and how.
In the technology and aerospace industries, I work with a lot of engineers, and they tend to get bogged down in the details. So I use my background in journalism to pull out the more interesting aspects of their work, so non-technical audiences can understand it. When I do media training, I use my background to help them understand what information or explanations journalists will be seeking. It’s all about clear communications and making sure an audience can understand your subject.
You’re charged with telling your company’s environmental story through a variety of communication channels—social media, marketing communications and media relations. Which channel is your favorite to use for story telling?
I really enjoy media relations and the challenge of exciting someone else about what we’re doing. We do really important and interesting work, and I want other people to think it is important and interesting, too. So I look for ways to connect people to a story in a way that resonates.
For example, when talking about technology, I look for relatable analogies—it helps journalists tell your story better. At Harris, we’ve developed the world’s most advanced digital camera. It’s used on NOAA’s newest weather satellite, watching over the East Coast. To share this technology with reporters, we’ve used the analogy of human senses. With old technology, we had sight and touch, but now we have taste, smell, and hearing, too, to help us understand environmental conditions. We also discuss the resolution. You may have a camera at home with a resolution of 40 to 50 megapixels, but this camera has 471 megapixels, which gives you more clarity into hurricanes and other storms.
These kind of comparisons help reporters better understand our technology and get excited about us, which is great because it’s likely they’ll have a larger audience than we do on our social media and web channels.
What advice would you give a young communicator entering the corporate communications world?
When you’re a corporate communicator, especially in a place with a lot of technology-oriented people, it is sometimes difficult to get a seat at the table. My advice is to remember you’re supposed to be at the table and you bring value to the organization. Your persistence in telling the story is invaluable. Inclusion is so important.
I just went to a women’s leadership conference at our headquarters in Florida. We talked a lot about making sure your voice is heard and advocating for other women. For more experienced women in the field, it’s important that you’re looking for opportunities to mentor junior staff and help them build their confidence. And junior employees should seek out mentors and advocates.
In the corporate world, which is still male dominated, you have to be persistent and confident, and you must make yourself part of the conversation—or it’s really hard to do your job well. I break through by reminding myself every day that I add value at this organization.
Which professional lesson, learned through everyday work, has had the most impact on your career?
Going back to my journalism days, I remember early on making a mistake in a story. I remember my editor glaring at me from across the newsroom, and I remember those piercing eyes like it was yesterday. The lesson, of course, was to make sure I’m paying attention to detail and accuracy. That lesson carries through to the corporate environment because I’m representing my company, so I need to ensure all the information I present to the outside world is right. We go through all kinds of reviews before information goes out, but ultimately it’s still on me to ensure it’s correct in the first place.
You’re known among colleagues for being quite creative. How can others bring more creativity to their work?
It’s really important to be aware of what’s going on around you, and I think you have to look for inspiration in all kinds of sources, whether it’s books, magazines, blogs, or podcasts. It comes down to being intellectually curious. You never know what will trigger an idea.
Also, you can’t be afraid to pitch an idea at work. A few months ago, we needed an interesting way to talk about a piece of weather satellite technology called CrIS, which is an acronym, in a video animation. I pitched an idea about a tie-dye-wearing hippy personification of the equipment. That idea was slammed and went nowhere. When you grow up in journalism and your stuff is getting scrutinized all the time, you learn to develop a thick skin. Not every idea is going to be a winning one, but you can’t be scared to try them out.
You’ve spent the last 15 years in technology, first at Raytheon and now Harris. What is it about this industry that keeps you engaged?
I’m kind of a space geek at heart. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed anything having to do with space, and I like working with really smart people who are solving important problems. This is a mission-driven environment, and I have an important role here, making sure we’re known for the good work we do. It’s very interesting to me, and it gives me a good excuse to look at satellite imagery, which I love.
Communicators tend to be passionate people, and you’re passionate about advocacy. Will you tell us a bit about your work for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America?
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a non-partisan advocacy organization working to strengthen gun laws in our country. The group started right after Sandy Hook. I became interested because on that same day, as that incident happened, I was volunteering at my son’s school. He was about the same age as the kids who were killed at Sandy Hook. It changed me. I learned about Moms Demand Action a year or two after that, and I’ve been very involved ever since. We’re trying to change this country’s gun culture one person at a time and appeal for common sense gun laws. I use my communications background by presenting on safe gun storage, writing letters to the editor and speaking to elected officials, along with all the other normal advocacy work.