By Sarah Howard
Public relations, marketing, advertising, branding and social media: They all fall under the broad definition of strategic communication.
As new graduates head out into the field, the uncertain economic climate has many facing an unknown future. But, from social media to new techniques, the field of strategic communication is booming.
As the field of communication changes almost daily, with the advent of everything from new apps to social media tools, the art of skilled and dynamic strategic communication becomes even more significant.
Through the tactful use of social media tools and other innovative solutions to communication problems, SJMC graduates are helping shape this new world of strategic communication. And many are thriving.
So much of what's changing the communications landscape is technology related. From Twitter to Facebook to YouTube to Pinterest, the tools anyone can use to communicate are ever-changing and growing. Because of the clutter, a strategic communication vision is more vital than ever to companies' brands -- and the public-relations firms and advertising agencies behind them.
And, new graduates are poised to thrive in this climate. "Today's graduates are digital natives," said Doug Spong, president of Carmichael Lynch and founder of Carmichael Lynch Spong Public Relations in Minneapolis. "They grew up with these technologies and are quick to adapt."
But, becoming part of the clutter is easy. Social media platforms equipped with strategic thinking lead to success.
"Without a firm strategy behind these tools, they won't be successful," said 2006 graduate Christian Betancourt, digital marketing manager at McNally Smith College of Music in Minneapolis.
Plus, the tools are allowing SJMC graduates to explore the professional world like never before -- from discovering new fields and career paths to landing internships.
Vince Koci can thank Twitter for the start of his career. Well, that and Wikipedia. The 2011 graduate was applying to Campbell Mithun's Lucky 13 internship (a program known in journalism schools throughout the country) the first year Twitter was used as part of the application process. Candidates had to send 13 tweets in 13 days to get noticed and get an interview. Koci decided that changing Campbell Mithun's Wikipedia page and sending them the link would get him noticed. It worked. "It went around the creative department and down to the PR department," he said with a laugh. "Wikipedia wasn't happy with the manipulation, but it was worth it."
Koci's methods of attention-grabbing would have been impossible just a few years ago.
Now, Koci is a full-time copywriter at Campbell Mithun and one of the agency's "Lucky Stars" -- Lucky 13 interns who get hired. Six of the agency's 10 Lucky Stars are SJMC grads who work in everything from account management to media strategy.
For more than a year now, Koci has been working on such brands as Purina and Frontier Communications. His copywriting responsibilities are a mix of new and traditional communication models -- from writing copy for mobile websites and building websites to recording radio ads. And, of course, he's in charge of his brand's social media. "Brands are adapting and becoming dedicated to their social media presence," he said.
While it's true that much of today's changing communications climate is strictly thanks to technological changes, without strategic planning, thinking and communication these technologies are not effective. And that's where the strategic communicators come in.
"We have to plan out everything," he said. "We put hours and hours and thousands of dollars toward formulating plans for social media."
Betancourt also owes his job to Twitter. A friend saw the job at McNally Smith and tweeted it to Betancourt, thinking he was a good fit. While Betancourt says he wasn't looking for a job at the time, "one tweet changed everything."
After internships with Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Best Buy, his public relations career began with positions at Kroll Ontrack and Thomson Reuters. But the fascination behind social media changed his career track. "I saw that companies were really starting to use social media to be transparent," he said.
It quickly became obvious to Betancourt how clients and businesses could use social media to their advantage. "Social media really allowed companies to find ways to put out information that might not be important enough for a press release, but was still interesting to stakeholders."
In 2007, while at Kroll Ontrack, Betancourt started using Facebook to put out content and blog posts to build a community. "Without a community, there's nobody to listen to what you have to say," he said. "And that takes strategic planning and thinking."
Betancourt says that social media tools can solve a lot of problems for those wanting to get a message out. "Whether you're launching a product or [addressing] a public relations issue, you can use these tools to your advantage if they're coordinated in the right manner," he said. "If you do everything strategically and in the right order, it'll piggyback off of itself."
2008 graduate Kolina Cicero discovered public relations by way of social media. After internships in writing, she came across an opportunity to work with John Larson, a brand manager for authors, as well as TV and radio personalities. "John had me manage the social media accounts of some of his clients, and I really loved it," she said. "I love that it's an untraditional form of public relations, but you still use a lot of the same skills."
It was through Larson's connections that Cicero was faced with a great opportunity: building her own business. In April 2011, Cicero Media launched. In November 2011, Cory Westerfield joined her to create Cicero West. Their clients run the gamut: a lawyer, a speaker, a yogurt shop, a civic designer -- and the list is growing.
And out of new technologies and business models come new ideas. In summer 2012, Cicero and Westerfield, along with another partner, are giving the social media community a new outlet: Sosper. Short for "social prosperity," Sosper encourages people in online communities to participate in meet-ups. "We all spend so much time behind our computers being 'social,' but we're not even meeting these people," she said. "Sosper is really an event space that allows people to come together from behind a computer."
These innovative ideas and technologies have led to opportunities within the strategic communication field. "Agencies are really ramping up in the social marketing realm," said Betancourt. "Many have whole departments that are dedicated to digital marketing."
This is by no means the first or last time this field will change. "Growth in this business is the only sign of life," said Spong. "There were positions created in the 1980s that don't exist anymore, and, as a professional, you have to adapt or you won't be relevant."
Spong says that the importance of social media marketing comes from a key takeaway communications professionals have always known: The most credible spokesperson is someone like the consumer with no vested interest. "Knowing this, social media can be a great advocate for us," he said.
"The opportunity for communications professionals is to be that credible source," Spong said. "The opportunity with social media is not just to rehash headlines but to share things of interest and engage the audience."