Last Friday, the Kansas City Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America hosted its annual event for college students who aspire to work in PR. In addition to serving as emcee of the fashion show, I was searching for the next great intern to join our team.
This year, I’ve asked our intern applicants to submit a cover letter that explains why they chose to pursue a career in public relations. I decided to take this approach for several reasons, the most important of which is a desire to find candidates who really “get” what it means to work in this industry, and want to do it for the right reasons.
It occurred to me that if I expect others to articulate a clear and compelling rationale for why they pursued a career in PR, I should be able to do the same. So the following is my response to that question.
From a very early age, there were lots of signs that I would end up in this field. I was extroverted, loved analyzing and constructing arguments, enjoyed learning new things (especially when they were complicated), and was always fascinated by current events (particularly news related to government and business).
But just because you have certain personality traits, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re destined to work in a particular field.
The real defining moment came when I was a freshman in high school. You see, when I was in eighth grade, my mom passed away after a long battle with HIV/AIDS. This was back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s – a time when this disease was making headlines and causing fear, and prior to the advent of “the cocktail” of medications that has improved and extended the lives of people living with HIV.
Her diagnosis as HIV-positive was an ironic turn of events, because prior to her own diagnosis, she had volunteered at the local health clinic providing HIV counseling and testing. She also spoke to community groups about the disease, making her among the first wave of volunteers in Maine to do so.
After learning she was HIV-positive, she continued speaking and training, but instead of talking from the perspective of a health professional, she spoke as a person living with the disease.
She was just one of many voices working hard to change and shape the national dialogue about this new and scary topic…and I saw first hand what happened as a result of those efforts.
I watched as school districts changed policies to encourage better education about the disease. I saw support services expand and people’s attitudes begin to shift. And close to home, I witnessed our community overwhelm my family with love and support at a time when other families in similar situations in other parts of the country were ostracized and maligned.
When she passed away, I knew it was my turn to be part of the solution. I spoke to my school board. I did interviews in the newspaper. I visited other schools and talked to kids my age about HIV/AIDS. And as luck would have it, it turned out that I was pretty good at this public relations thing.
When I started thinking seriously about college, I figured out that I could actually make a living using these skills. So I went to the University of Southern Maine and double majored in communication and political science. From there I went to the University of Kansas for graduate school, where I studied how rhetoric shaped public discourse and popular opinion.
After KU, I moved to Kansas City and started at Sturges Word. My clients come from a wide variety of industries. Some are government, and some are corporations. Some are for-profit, others not-for-profit. All are doing things that make the communities, customers and clients they serve better and stronger…and every morning, I get to wake up, walk down 9th Street, sit at my desk, and do my part to take their complicated ideas and make them understandable to the world. And that’s really cool.