Two posts ago, I recounted a pivotal, make that breakthrough, occurrence in my life: My debut experience earning money to communicate through writing. (For the record, I got one hundred bucks from a veteran’s group for drafting an essay on something to do with attending college. It’s a stretch, I know, but technically it’s accurate.)
Now, I’m going to chronicle my “other” first time: My first “real” communications-related job after graduating college. There’s a lesson here, one that especially holds true today — to me and lots of others in public relations and just about every other industry. I’ll even provide a link to a post from a nationally-known public relations leader that puts it all into perspective.
But I digress.
After graduating from Illinois State University during the very cold winter of 1976-1977, I was stymied as to what to do. I knew what I wanted to do: Become a reporter here in my native Chicago. After all, I wrote columns and covered student government for the ISU student newspaper, the Vidette. I was convinced I had the right stuff to be a reporter. Chicago still had three daily newspapers at the time, the leading wire services maintained bureaus here and community newspapers were probably at their strongest.
There had to be a slot for me somewhere. Attempts to break in with the dailies and community press proved futile, although I did secure an interview with the Associated Press, thanks to a referral from a guy who once worked there as a copy boy. (Talk about a position that went the way of the horse and buggy! When did newspapers and wires stop using copy boys?)
Despondent, I scanned the help wanted ads for something — anything — related to communicating through words on paper. I found an opportunity with one of the largest, best-know, most prestigious media companies in the world — Time-Life! But, no, I was not given a staff editorial position with one of the magazines. Didn’t even make it to the copy boy level. I landed a part-time job making out-bound calls for Time-Life Libraries selling books like “Foilage Houseplants.” To my credit, I sold two books.
However, an opportunity surfaced — thanks to a referral from the guy who was my scoutmaster. He referred me to a man who staffed a small financial advertising agency office on LaSalle Street, our financial district. That man could not hire me, but he reached out to a friend in the advertising department at the Chicago Tribune for advice. The Trib guy recommended the City News Bureau of Chicago, the renowned local wire service. I never heard of it, but I learned they hired kids with little to no journalism experience, worked you hard and paid $100 a week.
The Trib guy made a call, I secured an interview with the managing editor and flat out asked for the job — something my ad agency friend instructed me to do. Imagine how I felt when I road the elevator down from the seventh floor of the 188 W. Randolph St. tower, knowing I got a job as a reporter.
I’ll save my City News stories — and there are a lot of them — for another day, another post. The lesson, of course, was that I used my network to break into the news business. When I thanked the ad guy and asked how I could repay his thoughtfulness, he replied: “Someday you’ll have the opportunity to help someone in the business world. Repay the favor that way.”
I’ve kept that directive close to heart, and I hope I’ve done enough to help others get that proverbial foot in the door. Last week, I read a post by Gerard Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, the Secretary of the PRSA Board of Directors and CEO of Redphlag, a consulting firm in California.
Mr. Corbett pointed out that especially now, when jobs are scarce, public relations professionals should support each other through referrals and requests for advice and direction. He states it very well in this blog posted on the PRSA blog site.
Let me conclude with this musical suggestion for any job seeker — whether it’s public relations or another industry — who’s feeling a little beat up. It’s the gospel chestnut, “Keep on the Sunny Side,” performed by two titans of country music.