Jennifer Wakefield is an accredited public relations professional and currently the vice president of marketing and communications for the Orlando Economic Development Commission. Before that, she was the director of public relations for the EDC, public relations manager for Metroplan Orlando and a former adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida where she taught students how to write for the PR industry.
When did you consider a career in public relations?
In community college, Jennifer really admired her marketing professor and he was the only teacher she wanted to emulate upon graduation. Before declaring marketing as her major, she discovered the path to a public relations degree meant less math classes so PR it was! But ultimately, she wanted to pursue something that involved writing and was marketing-related.
Along the way, she considered a career in journalism so she shadowed a reporter for a day.
“And he absolutely encouraged me, ‘Run. Run fast and run to PR and stay there.’ And so I did.”
What were your struggles pursuing your first job in PR?
Jennifer graduated college a couple of months after 9/11 and many companies were on a hiring freeze. Proactive as she was, Jen attended her local professional association meetings to network and rub shoulders with the people she hoped to one day call her peers. That strategy paid off after she graduated and a position opened up. Because she had already cultivated these relationships, all it took was making her interest known and the hiring manager said she’d be a perfect candidate. And that’s how she got her first break in PR.
Speak to the power of networking help you on your path to getting a job in the industry?
It’s not just about leveraging the relationships you already have, but also reaching out to professionals you don’t know. Jennifer takes the time to meet with those who have taken the initiative to contact her and show a genuine interest in the profession. She admires their drive because she did the same when starting out and was fortunate to have professionals give her their time in the beginning. It may not happen immediately and the face-to-face may only be a half-hour conversation, but she and others like her are willing and able to help.
“Don’t be afraid to go reach out to those people and just have coffee and say, ‘Hey, I just want to pick your brain about how you broke into PR.’”
For reporters considering a transition into public relations, Jennifer says many of her fellow PR colleagues came from the news media has even hired those with news industry experience. That background can lead to success but doesn’t guarantee it.
What are the most important skills to have when considering a career in PR?
Writing tops the list, Jennifer says. Having strong news values is another component, which is why journalists are able to make the transition. Both of these qualities are important when it comes to pitching story ideas to the media (and many reporters are doing this in their daily budget meetings so it could be quite natural).
What are the pitfalls to avoid in pursuing a public relations job that you’ve seen?
Don’t make simple mistakes in the resume and cover letter because those are your first impressions. Jennifer advises not to be too cheesy which is to say trying to be cute or coming on strong with the cliches.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It came from her first boss, Bob O’Malley, who reminded her that “you work for yourself, and, ultimately, you represent your own brand and you need to be very conscious of that.”
What books do you recommend?
What do you want to say to that person who is on the fence about considering a career in public relations?
If you want a job in which you’ll never be bored because every day is different; if you love to write and are good at it; and if you enjoy a fast-paced working environment, then you’ll absolutely love public relations.