How majoring in journalism paid off in PR

By Kelly O'Brien

I remember sitting in the hallway before one of my college exams and having a guy from class sit down next to me. We recognized each other and made the routine “I’m sooo not ready for this test” small talk. Our conversation eventually reached the “so what’s your major?” point and when I told him mine was Journalism, he responded “Journalism? Isn’t that sort of archaic?”

Kelly O'Brien is in Fifth Third's Human Capital Leadership Program.

Kelly O'Brien is in Fifth Third's Human Capital Leadership Program.

Side note – I found out that he was actually a History major, and to this day it keeps me up at night as to whether he was poking fun at his own major or if he actually meant to say my major was archaic when he spent four years studying the past.

Anyway, that conversation has always stood out to me and propelled me to use this major and field differently, and progressively. It became a kind of crusade to push the limits of my degree and to find out how it could be applied not only in the field of writing, but across other disciplines as well. Little did my History major classmate know that he had motivated me to think about my future – and to pursue work in law, marketing, experiential learning, economic development and human resources. Through honing my ability to write while cultivating other skills, I began to establish myself as a “Jack of All Trades” – or rather, a female version I call a “Jill of All Skills.”

There is, ironically, no shortage of articles about how a journalism degree is not worth the student debt you will incur and will not land you a job, mainly due to the decline of print media.

To me, though, journalism was never a funnel into the newspaper business; I rather saw the skills of writing, deadline management, strategic communications, and being able to dig up a story (from people, places, things, data, etc.) as transcending disciplines. Those skills have served me well throughout my professional journey. I also completed minors in marketing and economics, which expanded my way of understanding the world.

In fact, everything journalism taught me helped me land jobs in the first place.

Think about it: The first step in applying for a job is submitting a resume that must be clear, concise and visually appealing. Some jobs also require a cover letter, which means having the ability to tell your story. Next comes the job interview – which is nice, because as a journalist who accustomed to asking the questions, you know how they are thinking and what differentiates a sincere, adequate answer compared to ingenuity or nervous rambling. And finally, there is follow-up and thank yous, which entail more written correspondence.

My first (unpaid) internship at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati (DSAGC) came about because someone saw potential and wanted to give me a chance. I did promotional and marketing work, database management, event panning and vendor relations. The one thing that consistently kept opening doors for me was employers’ need for someone who could write creatively, accurately, and strategically. Whether I was promoting a new nursing degree for UC’s College of Nursing, an upcoming event for DSAGC, or even the entire Cincinnati region for my internship in economic development at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, my ability to write was a competitive advantage for me and for those I worked for.

I have used my degrees in ways that I never imagined. I am currently working in Fifth Third Bank’s Human Capital Leadership Program during which I rotate throughout the bank’s core areas of human resources to gain knowledge, experience, skills and connections.

Learning how to adapt your ability to communicate and persuade is an effective tool for driving strategy in any company/industry. In both having a journalism and marketing background and joining an organization like PRSA, I have been able to foster synergy between HR and PR by:

1) Communicating value of an idea or concept to a mass audience: Whether you are announcing a new product feature to the public or communicating a change in a core process to several thousands of employees, establishing credibility quickly and genuinely is key.

2) Deadline management: Meeting a deadline while communicating or managing a project for a client is critical to success and buy-in; if information is not timely and accurate, your audience will look elsewhere.

3) Crisis management and resolution: Both PR and HR require the ability to think critically, decide the best next steps, resolve the crisis and clearly communicate these solutions.

With the contagion of transparency and instant access through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc., I can be connected around the world with the tap of my finger. What a time to be a writer and be able to make your voice heard!

No matter what role I am in, where I am working, and what industry I am serving, I will always value my ability to write and tell a story.