InsightsPOSTED March 25, 2015

To make it in PR, embrace your inner nerd

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Magnifying glass and map

For March, the APEX team is exploring the best communication advice ever.

When I first accidentally stumbled into a career in the PR industry armed with a biology degree, I often felt the need to pick a specialty area of communications focus right away.

I figured, if I got on the fast track towards becoming a subject matter expert, I would make myself indispensable to my employer. I had the opportunity to work across multiple sectors in my first job and it was all very rewarding – but I often wondered if I was stunting my professional growth by being a generalist PR practitioner.

I shared this concern with one of my first professional mentors, and she told me that the diversity in her work that being a generalist offered was exactly what kept her inspired, motivated and never bored in her PR career.

She gave me a great piece of advice – that curiosity and a passion to constantly learn and adapt would always serve me well in my communications career.

And once I embraced that philosophy, I have never looked back.

My ability to adapt was seriously tested when I moved to Beijing in 2011. A few years into my career back then, I was confident about applying the communications lessons from my formative years to my new role at a PR firm in China.

That changed very quickly.

Not only did I have to learn a new language and market – the world’s largest consumer market at that – but I had to throw my entire PR rule book out the window, and adapt to a completely different (and sometimes terrifying) new set of rules and norms.

No more paper trail. Email follow up went against the value of trust that is core to Chinese business culture.

Some of the biggest program budgets I developed there were approved by text or Skype calls.

I also had to learn (the hard way, but that’s another story altogether) the importance of “face,” roughly translated as “honour” or “good reputation” that all-pervasive ideology that serves to maintain balance and harmony in business and personal relationships at all times.

And everything I thought I knew about business casual – let’s just say, things look very different on the other side of the world.

And to my surprise, I found that I experienced another wave of culture shock when I moved back to Toronto a couple of years ago and was re-adapting to the Canadian way of doing business.

I truly believe that one’s ability to continuously learn and adapt is key to building a successful career – in any industry.

And really, if you think about it, we PR practitioners are truly a lucky bunch. What could be better than signing up for a career that allows for variety, lifelong learning (bonus: no real exams) and the safety net of an income?

Rohini Mukherji is an account director at APEX. What communication advice do you have? Let us know here or on Twitter. Also check out what others said.