What is the path for aspiring communicators to rise to the top of the profession?
“I believe careers are a bit like a chess game,” Allyson Park, global vice president of corporate affairs for Mars Wrigley, shared in an interview with our DePaul University graduate class.
“You can get across the board in lots of different ways, but you have to be clear on where you want to go.”
A good start, she noted, is to determine whether you want to specialize or work as a generalist. That will help you decide on your career and understand what experiences you need to acquire along the way.
“One of the things that really benefited me early on is, when I graduated, I knew I ultimately wanted to be leading global communications for a large, multinational company,” Park said. “So, I was able to gain the right experience over the years to be competitive and successful.”
A big believer in gaining agency and consulting experience, Park honed an array of skills at agencies Hunter PR and Jackson Spalding before working her way up to become vice president of worldwide public affairs and communications at The Coca-Cola Company with responsibility across 207 countries.
Ever-focused on building trust through transparent communications, Park’s responsibilities at Mars Wrigley over almost eight years have spanned many areas: leading corporate affairs (internal and external communications, government and public affairs and consumer care) for Mars Petcare North America, leading global corporate affairs, sustainability, and health & well-being for Mars Chocolate, leading global corporate affairs for Wrigley, and most recently leading global corporate affairs and purpose for Mars Wrigley.
Skills for success
According to Park, writing is of primary importance.
“The first thing that I think is absolutely critical is you have to be a good writer,” she said. “You have to be able to communicate.” She explained that, especially in a crisis, it’s important to write quickly and clearly.
In addition, she recommends:
- Be agile.
- Be detail-oriented.
- Be inclusive.
- Collaborate well.
- Have cultural understanding.
- Know when and how to have a voice, when to listen, and when to speak.
- Develop your personal brand.
Being both a mother and a global vice president, traveling up to 60% of the month before the pandemic and always keeping her phone and laptop nearby on holidays and vacations, Park admitted there are challenges.
“You’re not entering into a profession that’s nine to five,” she said. “The field of communications and corporate affairs has probably been more disrupted than many other professions worldwide. And the trick is, it’s really about life balance.”
Park’s career advice for communicators:
- Draw the line. “Decide what’s important to you and make that decision early on because what I found is, if you don’t, then those decisions will be made for you,” she shared.
- Assemble a great team. “Nobody does this job alone,” she said. “You want to have great people around you that you and others can trust, so that you have that life balance and so they have life balance.”
- Make technology work for you. “The beauty of technology is that it does allow you to integrate how you want to live and your choices,” she said. “It’s got to work for you. That’s all that really matters.”
Park has served on the boards of nearly 15 nonprofit organizations, including most recently World Business Chicago, World Federation of Advertisers and as president of the Mars Wrigley Foundation. She said such service helps her do her job better, and she believes in giving back to the industry and local communities.
“One of the things that is a great benefit of giving back is you get to meet people and you get to expand your network, but you also get to learn skills that maybe you don’t get to learn inside your day job,” Park said. “The chief communication officer’s world today can’t be done well within the four walls of your office. These roles are very external-facing, so you need that network and you need to understand what’s happening in the communities in which your business is working in.”
More than ‘managing up’
Park explained that “managing up” means making your manager’s job easier. “I think it’s really important when it comes to managing up that you’re not just managing up. You’re managing down, and you’re managing across as well,” she said. “When I see people who only manage up well, but they fail at managing down and across, that says to me, are they really authentic?”
In Park’s experience, the key is to know what stresses your boss is dealing with, try not to surprise them, and anticipate the needs of your manager, coworkers and the entire organization.
“If you’re able to anticipate, then I think you will manage up, down and across equally well because once you anticipate, then it’s about getting the job done and doing it consistently well, time and time again—where that just becomes part of your personal brand that you do a job extremely well each and every time,” Park said. “When you do that, you’ll be counted on for greater responsibility, for new opportunities, for growth, and that will take your career to a different level.”
Nicolas Davis is a graduate student studying public relations and advertising at DePaul University in Chicago. He holds a bachelor’s degree in strategic communication with a minor in marketing and currently works at Publicis Health Media.