5 tips for PR pros moving into leadership positions
Constellation CCO Judy Rader shares the most important lessons from her career.
Judy Rader oversees all aspects of corporate communications for Constellation, the nation’s largest producer of clean, carbon-free energy. As senior vice president of corporate affairs and chief communications officer, Rader is responsible for managing a team of 50 communicators across the country. Using her more than two decades working in agency and corporate positions, Raderoffers great insights for forging a career pathway.
What’s your Velcro?
It’s important to find the work that “sticks.” “What’s the work that sticks to you no matter where you go, no matter what you do, because you’re good at it?” Rader asked.
For Rader, the answer is media relations. “I’ve always enjoyed the challenge and the strategy involved in creating or killing a story; it’s a high risk, high reward endeavor.” While a talent for media relations served her well across her career, she acknowledges growing as a leader sometimes means “delegating the work you love to someone else to help them grow and develop new skills.”
Finding opportunities under one roof
Rader cites her agency roots as the foundation of her path to the C-suite. Starting in Edelman’s reputation management group, she learned crisis and issues management, public advocacy, financial communications and investor relations, as well as traditional corporate PR work. “There’s no better training ground than an agency,” says Rader. “It allows you to work on a variety of clients and industries, and it helps you build a network of other communications people in your field.”
Radar first joined Exelon, the parent company from which Constellation was spun off, through its ComEd division as communications manager. She wasn’t thinking long-term then, but in the 17 years she’s spent with the company, she’s now held seven different positions. “This is a dynamic, fast-paced, and complicated industry,” says Rader. “The work is intellectually stimulating and challenging, and I also believe in the mission. As a clean energy company, we’re helping to solve climate change.”
Rader recounts lobbying for a pivotal career advancement she wanted. “I called the CCO, the head of our utility business, the second-in-command to our CEO, and ultimately I got the job.” Admitting that she may not have checked all the boxes on the job description, she says, “I wanted it, and my work and relationships helped me land that promotion.” Rader was named chief communications officer in February 2022.
Building business acumen
To enable better business communication outcomes, Rader started a program called the Strategic Business Partner Initiative. “The communications team was starting to feel like a deli counter,” she explains, “and business units would come to us with press release requests and expect us to fulfill their order.”
Now when requests come in, Rader’s team asks two important questions to evaluate and provide strategic recommendations based on understanding what audience they’re trying to reach and what the desired outcome is.
The program’s structure allows the communications team to share suggestions for content aligned with best practices, instead of simply creating what is asked of them, while also tying into their professional development goals.
“Business acumen is key to being able to do this because you can’t make strategic recommendations about communicating business decisions if you don’t deeply understand the business,” says Rader. She and her team invest time educating the communications staff about Constellation’s business, including attending quarterly earnings calls. Rader reiterates, “You have to understand how your company makes money – our CEO expects us to go deep in the weeds with him or we risk losing credibility.”
Leading the hardest work
Rader stresses that it’s important for communications professionals to lead conversations surrounding social responsibility and social justice.
She describes communication around social issues and diversity, equity and inclusion as some of the hardest work. “We weren’t doing this five years ago, but it is now expected for corporations to step up.” Rader urges communicators to seek continued understanding of how social issues align with the company’s values, employees’ personal views, organizational political giving, and more.
As a working mother of twins, Rader grapples with childcare, and juggling home and work priorities. “Setting boundaries is important but difficult to do, especially in this role, because PR is not a 9-to-5 position.” She points out that the pandemic unexpectedly helped her achieve more balance and flexibility. Says Rader, “Previously, you had to pretend like you didn’t have a life but it’s much more integrated now, and it’s much more positive.”
Rader believes the field of communications is dynamic and ever-changing, “I’ve stayed at one company so long because of the many opportunities; you have to be willing to shed your Velcro and take on new, diverse challenges to grow and move ahead.”
Pam Edwards and Wynne Strugatch completed their Master’s in Professional Communication in August 2022 with DePaul University. When not in school or working, their interests both include travel, reading, and finding great pancakes.