Communication Consulting: Is This the Right Career For You?

By: Robin Walden

As a little girl, I never dreamed of becoming a consultant. A teacher, lawyer or doctor – yes. But a consultant was certainly not on the career list. And yet, 20 years later, I can’t imagine a more exciting career choice. What other career allows you to move between industries, interact with countless personalities, and help all types of organizations improve their effectiveness at communicating with internal and external audiences? o-nas

Consulting in the field of strategic communications is a rewarding career, but is not always easy. Here are a few best practices and challenges when considering whether consulting is the optimal career path for you.

Consulting comes in all shapes and sizes

Consulting can take many forms – working for the big consulting players, partnering with a boutique firm, or venturing out on your own. Having worked in different consulting environments, I have found that each option has advantages and disadvantages:

  • Large consulting firms provide exceptional resources and training and can teach the fundamentals of consulting. But junior consultants often have less opportunity to interact with clients, and may get relegated to more tactical work. And as consultants gain seniority, there may be less focus on training and reduced commitment to personal development.
  • Boutique firms provide more hands-on experience and client interaction. And you can find a firm that specializes in niche areas that excite you. Smaller firms often afford more hands-on experience and project accountability. But smaller firms may lack stability or a strong infrastructure to support consultants on a day-to-day basis and may lack a structured career path.
  • Independent consulting provides the most freedom and allows you to pursue exciting business opportunities and set your own hours and travel. But it also is less stable, and projects may either be too plentiful at times or lacking. A key to independent consulting is to secure a strong and reliable network. Elance is a great tool to search for experienced resources to utilize when certain skillsets are needed for an engagement.

Consulting is a lifestyle, not a job

Consulting is not a 9-5 job and requires a person to be highly adaptable. Nights, weekends, and interrupted vacations are not unusual and a consultant is expected to always be available to meet client needs. A consultant needs to be flexible about skills, time, travel, and work style.

Speed is also of the essence and consultants are expected to quickly ramp up on projects and do whatever it takes to get work completed on time and on budget. Clients can often be demanding and are not always receptive to partnering with consultants. Therefore, a consultant must have exceptional people skills and be well versed at partnering with a broad range of personalities to achieve mutual success.

Detective work is a key to success

Consultants work across industries and must be well versed on the challenges and opportunities of their clients. Fortunately, with research and competitive information available online, this information is readily available. Consulting involves a lot of behind-the-scenes research to uncover the following:

  • About the industry: What are challenges within the industry? Who are the key players? Where is this industry heading?
  • About your client: What is their history? What is their vision? What are their core competencies? How do they differentiate themselves in the marketplace?
  • About the situation: What are their most pressing business issues? How can communications support achievement of their business goals? How can they measure whether communications are achieving the desired result?

Mark Haas has published over 800 daily tips for consultants on an Institute for Management Consultant blog. Tip #703 says that consultants can take a few tips from Sherlock Holmes to do detective work to figure out the root of the problem, what caused the failure, and how to fix it. If you are the type of individual who likes problem solving, consulting can be an ideal career path.

There is no such thing as a small project, only a small result

Communication consulting is not always glamorous. Projects can range from creation of marketing collateral to crafting complex communication strategies. No matter how tactical the project, it is critical to add strategic value – whether refining the messaging, proposing alternative channels to better reach audiences, or crafting a measurement plan to monitor success. Clients may not initially understand the value that strategic communications can play in achieving business success.

In my experience, small projects have often led to multi-year engagements. It is critical to get your foot in the door, demonstrate your value, and invariably more projects will follow. A pro bono project or non-profit assistance can be a great way to showcase your expertise, network with potential clients, and generate new business opportunities.


Consulting is not for everyone. But, if you are ambitious, a self-starter, a people person, and adventurous – consulting can be a fantastic career.

Let’s hear from you. For those of you with consulting experience, what have you found to be the biggest challenges? For those of you considering this career path, what advice can help you get started in this exciting career?

WaldenRobin Walden has been a Management Consultant since 1993. She started her career at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), spent many years in a boutique consulting firm in NYC, and now enjoys the flexibility and challenges of independent consulting in the healthcare arena in Connecticut. She is happy to address questions about this field and can be reached at robwalden@cox.net or on LinkedIn.

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Awareness, Action, and the ALS Philanthromeme by Zack Langway

langway-2      If you haven’t heard of it yet, you’re about to.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is taking the Internet by storm – the latest in a series of viral efforts to raise awareness (and money) for important causes, like ALS. The challenge was started by Pete Frates, a 29-year-old Massachusetts man who has lived with ALS since 2012. A former Boston College baseball player, Pete Frates devotes his time to spread awareness of what is often known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

And although some have shunned the philanthromeme as simply a way to prank your friends (a la “bros icing bros”), I think this is truly something more. Something that we should embrace, and that ought to proudly own its spot at the intersection of comedy and advocacy.

Yes, the Ice Bucket Challenge has a certain “je ne sais frat” quality to it, but how many times I had thought of ALS this month before the meme? How many times this year?

The philanthromeme has value – the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $41.8 million for an organization whose entire online giving netted just around $2.1 million in the same time frame last year. And it got me to engage my husband, sister, aunt, and several friends in a way that made them think, act, and share. Want another example? Check out the success of #GivingTuesday in turning the year-end cultural phenomenon of spending and giving into a philanthropic moment.

A meme doesn’t convey the suffering of a person with ALS*, or of families who have watched a loved one go through the disease. And all the meme-ing in the world won’t prevent or turn back ALS.

But if it gets enough of us talking, donating, caring beyond the meme itself, if it gets a topic like ALS into the public consciousness just long enough to do even a modicum of good – then I say bring on the ice water.

And YOU can make sure this philanthromeme keeps “philanthro” at its core.

What do you think? Have you seen other good philanthromemes? Tweet @ZackFromDC to weigh in!

NOTE ON OUR BLOGGER: Zack Langway is a 2013 graduate of our M.A. in Communication program who currently works as Vice President for Digital at Fenton. He has provided strategic guidance on establishing and growing digital and social presence to a number of national social good institutions, including Teach for America, the United Nations Foundation, and Johnson & Johnson’s global health initiatives.

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Is Social Media the Way to Reach the Teenage Patient? by Elizabeth Smith

In an exam room sits a quiet 15-year-old female, furiously texting on her iPhone, awaiting her annual sports physical. Her mom is patiently sitting in the waiting room to give her daughter some privacy. The doctor steps in, completes the physical, and asks if there is anything the teen wants to talk about. The girl shakes her head “no,” and they say goodbye as she heads back to meet her mom.

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            From the outside, this scene might look like a wasted opportunity for the physician to have a confidential discussion about sensitive health topics with her shy patient. But this teen didn’t walk away empty handed. Before the physician walked through the exam room door, the teen had taken a photo of the whiteboard with a link to a blog titled “Am I ready for Sex?” and a Twitter handle to follow–all posted by the physician earlier that day.

            Communicating health messages with the teenage population has always been a struggle for adolescent healthcare providers. In my personal experience, attempts to get the majority of teens to engage in conversations about their health during a 15-minute visit quickly leads to deadpan silence. With most providers at least a decade older than their patients, it becomes imperative to adopt communication strategies that are relevant to teens, but many healthcare providers are still resistant to join the digital world. According to recent data, physicians are engaging in social media for personal reasons, but don’t use it professionally.

Will teens participate in the conversation online?

            Since there’s no doubt teens are spending significant time on social media, this big question remains: should adolescent health care practitioners invest their time in trying to connect with their younger patients via social media? Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin- Madison found that teens were receptive and enthusiastic about having more ways to receive sexual health information digitally from trusted medical sources. Teen participants in the study indicated that information provided in a true interactive format would be more beneficial than traditional websites that read like textbooks.

Social media offers the clinician the opportunity to listen to questions and to discover trends in teen health that might not make it to the office. Online platforms allow teen patients to ask anonymous questions in a non-threatening format. Allowing for patient questions and answers are a way to supplement conversations in the examination rooms. Bridget Garmisa, a Philadelphia based pediatric/ adolescent Nurse Practitioner agrees that the inclusion of social media can be an important adjunct to traditional patient care. “It won’t replace the conversations that you need to have with your patients, but giving advice and reputable information online is perfect for the patients who want more information on their own time.”

Strategize Specifically

As in any social media strategy, effective communication should be adapted to patient demographics. Psychologist Lucy Wimpenny, PhD, finds that “teens are looking for information from people they trust, but it has to relate to their immediate and specific needs.” She points out that a 14-year-old urban teen might have entirely different information needs from a suburban minority teen. Listening to conversations within the specific patient population will help you identify the appropriate topics and social media channels that optimize reach to this target audience.  

Be Social…Safely

            Although online communication may be the smart and convenient way to reach patients, practitioners still need to practice ethically and responsibly. Protecting patient confidentiality is still a number one priority for all clinicians engaging in social media. HIPPA guidelines indicate that digital communication falls under the same standards for protecting patient privacy. Adopt a practice of never discussing any specific patient cases as examples in your online conversations, and don’t accept personal “friend” requests from patients.

It’s time for healthcare professionals to move towards a safe, strategic, and social health dialogue.

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How Cool Geeks Make a Difference in the World

If you’re a socially conscious nerd, cool, and chic, you can make a difference in the world, wrote the Economist. Indeed, being geek is chic, especially in the Silicon Valley, where it’s a norm among the young aspiring next Mark Zuckerbergs, Marissa Mayers, or Jessica Jackleys of the world. But that trend is not unique to the Silicon Valley. Here in DC, the crucible of NGOs and non-profits, social entrepreneurship, blending innovative technology with social change, is an emerging trend—with results to prove its efficacy and affect

The Uber Geek

One such cool über geek is Nick Martin, the co-founder and president of TechChange, a tech startup company that offers online technology training for social change.  A graduate of Swarthmore College and The University for Peace, Nick’s clarion call to social change began early on when he first started an award-wining conflict resolution and technology program for the elementary schools called DCPEACE.

“I knew I wanted a career in social change. I felt strongly it should involve tech in some way. I believed education was the key to everything,” said Nick.

This desire for social change, using innovative technology and education, was the genesis of TechChange. Its primary goal has been simple: offer online technology courses to people, both locally and globally, so they are empowered to employ technical skills gained in their field.

“We’ve got a nice niche focusing on online learning for international development and helping organizations deliver their content,” said Nick.

To that end, Nick advocates for geeks who make a difference in the world, teaches at many prestigious DC institutions, blogs, and travels regularly to Africa.

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Nick teaching a course at Amani Institute and iHub in Nairobi.

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Nick at the 1776 TechCockail Startups.

You the Uber Geek

But you don’t have to be Mark, Marissa, Jessica, or Nick to make a difference in the world. You can be an ordinary Joe or Jane, a graduate or an undergraduate student, a working professional or retired. And if you’re interested in working in the developing world, in the areas of conflict management, health provisioning, governance, and aid management, you can do so—by using the platforms these entrepreneurs have created and by following the advice they’ve imparted. Nick’s advice and insight for students at TechChange are:

What you put into the courses is what you’ll get out of them.

Though designed for powerful, engaging, and interactive learning experience, you still have to be self-directed and motivated.

Online learning should be social, so share as much about your best practices with others in your class as you can. In a course like mHealth, you may be sharing your best practice with a health worker in Uganda or a doctor in Argentina.

Development agencies want employees with tangible technological skills who can transition outdated processes and update them with automated ones or create efficient ones.

Other Uber Geeks

Some students at TechChange are development professionals working for international aid agencies. Some are recent graduates. Some are tech savvy. Some are completely new to technology but with an abundance of passion. In other words, they all are cool geeks who want to make a difference. One student, Trevor, who enrolled in several courses at TechChange made such a difference. He shares his journey.

“I found three key features of TC105 very valuable to me: the relevant information, the interactive experience, and the access to a network of experts in mobile tech,” said Trevor.

Uber Social Entrepreneurs

For those who aspire to go beyond and become social entrepreneurs, Nick advices:

You can’t do it alone. Find a team with complementary skills who feel as passionate about social change as you do.

Everything will take twice as long and cost twice as much, so plan accordingly.

Fail rapidly, learn quickly. Get the product out first. And constantly improve.

Do a few things well, and see how the market responds.

We offer a course in social entrepreneurship where you’ll meet global founders who share their experiences with the students.

So if your clarion call is to make a difference in the world, like Trevor, or to become a social entrepreneur, like Nick, the choices are simple.

Visit TechChange. Explore the courses. And join the happy hours.

Be a Cool Geek. Be Chic. Be the Change.

By Jules S. Damji

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Nonprofit Fundraising: Your Annual Content Strategy Matters

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Marketing at a nonprofit organization is not just about increasing awareness. If your foundation relies on fundraising to develop and distribute programs and services, then you need to keep your development colleagues in mind all year long, not just when they start planning their appeals.

Put your best foot forward

Know and live your organization’s brand, train your colleagues and your volunteers, and communicate it in everything you do in person and online. And I’m not only talking about your name, your tagline, and your logo. Consider your mission, your key messages, your personality, and your values. If you have not articulated these, then it’s a valuable place to start and will pay dividends in the future. And if you’re a small nonprofit and think branding doesn’t matter, read this Fast Company article and reconsider.

Provide value-added content on all your social media platforms, on your organization’s website, and on your blog throughout the year. Don’t forget the 80-20 rule; people want to read content that is valuable to them 80% of the time and about the organization 20% of the time. It is critical to your fundraising team that you abide by this rule because people who benefit from January to November, are more apt to give when asked in December.

Demonstrate quickly and creatively why it matters

Above all, people need to know that their contribution matters. And you need to tell them and show them quickly. Why is this important? Just one look at Brandon Gaille’s blog post on average attention span statistics and trends shows why you must be creative and succinct when you convey your messages to achieve the desired impact.

Fill your content strategy with stories of people who are helped by your organization. Their profiles convey the value of your organization without you stating it overtly. Share these stories as appropriate in the platforms that you use: website, blog, electronic newsletter, Facebook, YouTube, or other social platform. These stories are the fuel for your development colleagues and can even be included in appeal letters (emails). They demonstrate to donors and potential donors why their gifts matter.

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Alix told the story of her daughter’s struggles with Marfan syndrome in an email and blog post that were part of The Marfan Foundation’s 2013 end-of-year appeal. Her compelling story had a positive impact on fundraising results.

Use fewer words and more visuals. It may take two pages or extensive online copy to explain how a child has struggled with, and overcome, a debilitating illness. How likely is it that anyone will get to the end of the story? A short video is easily more compelling. It can convey emotion and impact in a minute or less.

Build your communities

Create and grow your online communities. Focus on the platforms that reach your target audiences and engage with them regularly. Use storytelling, visuals, and value-added content to spur conversation and increase interactions. Tend to your platforms regularly so that people feel connected. Then, when your development colleagues want to use your platforms as distribution channels for their appeal, it will be a no-brainer for people to support the foundation that has done so much for them throughout the year.

A strong partnership between the communications team and development team is critical for nonprofits, large and small. Together, the more awareness you raise and the more money you raise, the more people you can help in your community.

Eileen Masciale is the President of EJM Publication Relations. In addition, she serves as Consulting Director of Communications for The Marfan Foundation. In 2012-2013, Eileen was co-project manager for the Foundation’s re-branding initiative and website re-launch. Her partnership with the Foundation’s senior director of development was the inspiration for this post. Eileen blogs at VirtualHealthNeighborhoods.com. Follow her @Eileen Masciale.

 

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Who’s Got Your Back? How to Expand Your Circle of Influence

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 By Jennifer Ransaw Smith

Ever notice that there are some people who seem to know everyone. They fly into a new city and instantly have a lunch companion. Or, walk into a room and have a connection within less than a minute. When they need something, they are able to open their Rolodex and place a call to someone who can help them personally or, refer them to someone who can.

The fact is, these people have developed what is often referred to as a powerful “circle of influence.” They have the ability to get answers, connect with the right person or simply get considered for opportunities they might not have otherwise.

Unfortunately, most people don’t fall into that category. Most people don’t even consider the power of their relationships (or lack of) until it is too late—like when they are looking for a job.

So let me ask you, how deep is your circle of influence? Are you in a position that you can instantly change the game by picking up the phone? If you wanted to host a gathering of people who spanned a wide range of levels (from junior to C-Suite), backgrounds, occupations and nationalities, could you? Or, would you find that most of the attendees were pretty much just like you?

One of the biggest secrets to building a successful personal brand is building a powerful personal network. However, this isn’t something that “just happens.” No, you also need:

1.     Time: Powerful networks aren’t built overnight. They take a while—a long while.

2.     Intention: You must be very strategic in your outreach and very consistent.

3.     Guts: You must get comfortable being uncomfortable. You are going to be reaching out and the truth is not everyone is going to be receptive. That’s ok. Do it anyway.

A few years ago, I read an incredible book by Keith Ferrazzi called Never Eat Alone (NY Times Bestseller).  What I loved about this book (besides the practical advice) is they everyday stories that reiterated the importance of building your personal network. I highly recommend picking it up and adding to your Success Library (I know you have one, right?).

One of the strategies discussed in the book is to leverage dinner parties or lunches to build your inner circle. However, Keith turns the idea of the traditional dinner party upside down simply by expanding the notion of who is on the invite list.

Keith believes what most people do when they are having a dinner or lunch is invite all of their friends, very seldom expanding beyond their small little circle. When in fact, that is the polar opposite of what you should be doing. He believes the more strategic way to approach the dinner party (or luncheon) is to invite people you would like to develop deeper relationships with or get to know better. If you want to have your friends connect with someone there, have them drop by after for dessert.

Sound like an interesting idea? Why not give it a try? Pick four to five people you believe would add value to your network (and you can add value to theirs), invite them to dinner or lunch. If a budget is an issue, do lunch and find a great restaurant that offers pre-fixed menus. Depending on the restaurant you could probably invite four or five people to lunch for around $150 with a pre-fixed lunch around $30 each (give or take a few dollars and one person).

Or, if that is still more than you would like to spend. You can do what Keith did while in college. Open up a card table. Grab a rotisserie chicken and a bottle of wine and start there. The goal isn’t the backdrop, it’s the company. Your job is to connect. Have lively conversation. Find out more about them. Ask lots of questions. See if you can help them  in any way. Offer value.  Make an impact.

Do this often and watch as your Rolodex and circle begins to expand.

Find out more from the attached Power Point.  JHU Blog PP Ransaw Smith

Jennifer Ransaw Smith is the CEO of Brand id|Strategic Partners, a full-service Personal Elevation Agency. They specialize in helping entrepreneurs and executives leverage their skills and talents to become break out stars in their industry. Http://www.brandidsp.com.

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The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But…

When crisis strikes, leaders of organizations – whether they are corporate executives, nonprofit managers, or elected officials – tend to have one of two reactions when it comes to the flow of information:

  • We should draft a short, factual statement and then stick to our guns, providing no further information; or
  • We need to provide full transparency to the media, answering all questions and providing details about the incident.

Neither of these strategies is effective for reputation management. When such an incident arises, the value that an organization’s communications professional brings is being able to find the balance between these two extremes to manage the crisis while maintaining as much control as possible on the flow of information. The question is, how do we do it?

ImageCredit: Reuters

Say Something

One of the traditional clashes that can occur between an organization’s legal and media departments is over what should be shared in times of crisis. The lawyers are focused on protecting the organization from any legal action; the press office is fielding media calls and is anxious to get something out to satisfy interest. But even after a statement has been developed, it’s important for communications professionals to examine whether that is enough. Reputational damage happens much faster than any decision about legal action. Refusing to provide substantial information can cause very real harm that can take years to rebuild, if full repair is even possible. 

This doesn’t mean that an organization should rush to put their top executive on cable news. Far from it. But communications professionals can take the opportunity to think creatively about other ways to engage reporters, including:

  • Conducting off the record briefings with reporters;
  • Developing a Fact v. Fiction or Q&A document that helps reporters better understand the issue;
  • Facilitating opportunities for the media to speak with stakeholders who can validate the press statement and/or speak to the organization’s integrity;
  • Creating a post to place on social media networks; or
  • Publishing an op-ed in a publication that is well-read by the organization’s stakeholders.

Do you have an example where an organization was tight lipped and it worked against its best interests? Or to its advantage? Provide your analysis in the comments section below.

Say Everything

Particularly when a situation is personal, it can be difficult to convince an organizational leader that restraint can be their best asset. Many victims to reputational attacks respond with a desire to bombard the media with information that may prove their innocence. For corporate executives, an attack on a brand can translate into lost profits. This can often trigger a recommendation for an information overflow to calm interest. In these scenarios, the most important thing a communications professional can do is to hit the pause button. What is in the best interest of the organization? What information are reporters actually asking for? What is the most relevant information to use in response? While transparency and accountability are important, they can also leave an organization vulnerable to further attacks. It is possible to over-expose your organization as an overcompensating reaction to whatever it is dealing with. As the public calls for more information, think critically about what the pitfalls of that information may be. How can you be responsive and honest to stakeholders without digging a deeper hole?

Have you seen a scenario where an organization allowed the public deep access to details surrounding a crisis and it backfired? Or led to its success? Provide your analysis in the comments section below.

Say the Right Thing

When dealing with a crisis situation, rely on a strategy that is responsive, transparent and efficient:

  • Responsive: Answer reporter’s inquiries, even if the response is something as benign as “We will have no comment” or “I’ll let you know as soon as we have something.” This builds a dynamic of respect. Reporters are going on air whether you respond or not, but often times responding can buy you precious time and curry some favor with journalists.
  • Transparent: A commitment to transparency means that the organization will work to answer inquiries and provide information in as open a way as possible. It does not mean answering every single question. Answer the question you want, not the question you get. Frame the discussion, don’t let the context get taken away from you. Clearly define the terms of your answer.
  • Efficient: For most organizations, the goal during a crisis is to get out of the news. That means providing short and direct responses that aim to nullify the story, not perpetuate it. Take caution before introducing story lines that have not been raised. Throwing missiles at another organization or individual can extend the life of the story. Play through the next chapter of the episode before hitting send.

Melissa Schwartz is the Vice President for Strategy and External Affairs at The Bromwich Group, a strategic consulting firm in Washington, D.C. She was among the first students to enter and earn her M.A. in Political Communication from the Johns Hopkins AAP program. Ms. Schwartz has more than a decade of strategic and crisis communications experience in government, the private sector, and at nonprofit organizations. You can contact her at melissa.schwartz@bromwichgroup.com or follow her on Twitter at @MSchwartz3.

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