During my vacation last week, I met a fascinating PR veteran – David Simon. Over dinner, I “interviewed” him about his career, and he offered a few suggestions for young people starting out in this profession. A glimpse at his long career will be of interest, especially to individuals who did not pursue a traditional PR or communications degree.
After graduating from Cornell with a degree in engineering nearly 50 years ago, David realized he didn’t want to be an engineer. Because of his writing skills, he came on the radar of recruiters from Sylvania in Woburn, Mass. in the early 60s. They liked the fact he understood engineering and was a good writer, so they hired him and made up a title—marketing engineer. In just two years, Sylvania named him ad/PR manager at its Mountain View, Calif. division. “I was in the right place at the right time,” David said.
After moving to Los Angeles to work for other technology companies, David opened his own technology PR firm in 1968. He latter rewarded a loyal, long-time employee by making her a partner and putting her name on the firm’s door—Simon/McGarry PR. After 18 years, they sold the highly successful technology-focused agency to London-based Shandwick (now Weber Shandwick). Today, David runs an interesting project for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that searches web sites for open-source material that helps officers understand what is going on relative to Homeland Security issues. He oversees 40 volunteers who help compile information that is turned into bulletins for Sheriff’s deputies.
Throughout his career, David was active in PRSA. He is a former chair the College of Fellows and served on the PRSA national board for three years. He’s planning to attend the PRSA international conference in Detroit next month. If you attend the conference, make a point to meet him and other veterans who will be attending. They love talking about their experiences and the potential of your career.
David’s advice to young people pursing careers in PR: Begin at an agency. “An agency is a broadening experience,” David recommended. “A corporate job is good, but that narrows your focus. Most agencies allow you to work on lots of accounts providing a greater range of experiences.”
Other advice from David: ”Make sure you can write. . .Do your homework about the agency or business. . .Take any job they offer you—even if it’s in the mailroom. . .Ask questions and offer to help others.”
2 thoughts on “Advice From Tech PR Pioneer David Simon”
David’s story is fascinating.
But I’ve a problem with his advice that you get broader PR experience working for an agency. That’s what everyone I teach thinks, so I try to challenge their prejudice.
You might be working on four different accounts, say, but you’ll be doing the same thing for all four (most likely, media relations). So where’s the breadth of PR experience?
In a corporate job, by contrast, you’ll experience internal and external communications with a range of stakeholders.
I will probably never change many minds, but I think it’s a debate worth starting.
I took David’s advice and took the first job a PR firm would offer me, back in 1997. Ironically, it was in Sunnyvale with Simon/McgGarry! I later moved to Shandwick then in house. I am glad to have contributed to the Simon legacy, and all of his advice above is very good!