I continue to believe that graduating from college with a liberal arts degree is one of the best ways to prepare for a career in public relations—my courses in history, political science, sociology, psychology, and even French have served me very well these past 25 years. But during my senior year at Northwestern, after a slew of on-campus job interviews that went nowhere, I wished I’d focused on something that made me more employable.
With the end of senior year looming, I made the time-honored decision of many a liberal arts major: I applied to graduate school. Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism had just launched its Master of Science Program in Corporate Public Relations (now the Integrated Marketing Communications program), and since I’d had a couple PR internships and run a major campus event, the program seemed like a good fit with my 21-year-old self. Mind you, I wasn’t certain I was headed for a career in public relations, but I had to commit to something or face the unattractive idea of returning home to live with my parents.
Turns out it was a great decision. I loved the Medill program, and realized that public relations was an excellent career choice for me. Right after school began, I found a part-time position with Morton Chemical, which taught me that if I could write about industrial coatings, I could write about anything! And when the time came for my program internship, I lobbied Medill for an agency position instead of a corporate role since I’d already worked in-house. About half-way through my internship, I was hired as a full-time account executive. Needless to say, I never saw the light of day during my last six months of school given all my commitments, but finishing my degree with a job in hand was worth it.
These days, after spending 20 years working for some of the finest agencies in the world, I’m heading up Corporate Communications for Discover Financial Services (I figured it was time to see if I could actually do what I’d advised my clients to do for so many years!). It’s been an exhilarating ride. While I loved my agency experience—the clients and senior counselors with whom I worked made every day interesting and instructive—being in-house again has ignited an even deeper passion for our profession. There’s just something about really getting to know a business and its people that has made my role more rewarding for me. And I’m fortunate to have an incredibly talented and enthusiastic team, which makes coming to work each day a real pleasure.
Here’s a quick look at my career thus far:
- Editor of Employee Publications at Morton Chemical Division of Morton Thiokol (about 1 year)
- Account Executive & Account Supervisor at Ruder-Finn (2 years)
- Account Supervisor at Hill & Knowlton (3 years)
- Founding member of Caduceus Communications, a start-up firm specializing in healthcare PR (2.5 years)
- Vice President at GolinHarris (2.5 years)
- Managing Director and Global Client Leader at Burson-Marsteller (9+ years)
- Vice President, Corporate Communications, and Member of Management Committee for Discover Financial Services (will be 6 years in January)