Networking helps—but building a PR community is even better

Here’s how finding connection helped one PR pro keep her career going during COVID-19.

For the past 16 months, we’ve all been riding the COVID rollercoaster. None of us chose to get on board, but nevertheless we were forced to deal with the highs and lows, the sudden drops and sharp turns of the pandemic.

Now, it seems like the ride might finally be slowing down. Before we step off for good, we should take a moment to look around and figure out how our world has changed, and how we’ve changed along with it.

The pandemic transformed every aspect of our lives. For many of us, the most severe reversals took place at work, with thousands of people losing their jobs. I suffered that blow myself in March 2020, when the corporate organization I worked for reduced marketing & PR positions across the country.

As soon as I lost my job, I began the hunt for a new one. I figured the tech industry was most likely to weather the pandemic storm, so I started my search there. During the early days of lockdown, however, I discovered that not even the bullish tech sector was immune to the COVID slump. Startups and PR agencies announced layoffs, and soon a talented pool of people was competing with me for new jobs.

Fortunately, I was able to take advantage of outplacement services from my previous employer. I was partnered with a no-nonsense career advisor who told me that at my senior experience level, I would need to “work my network,” because most of the jobs I was after went to “people they know.”

What came next was a mammoth effort of personally reaching out to hundreds of people.

I set to work reconnecting with former colleagues, peers and anyone else who might help me find my next role. While actively looking for opportunities where I could be part of a larger team, I reopened my PR consulting business under the name Forever Speaks PR. As a freelance “solopreneur,” running my own business kept me in the game.

It was great to reconnect with people, even if the circumstances were not ideal. I connected with Vanessa Yanez, my peer and mentor, who heads up the Brand Advocacy Center of Excellence at HP Inc. Vanessa was recently recognized by the Silicon Valley Business Journal as a “Silicon Valley Woman of Influence” and is president of the Public Relations Society of America Silicon Valley (PRSA-SV) chapter.

Becoming active in professional bodies 

Vanessa invited me to join the PRSA-SV Board. I readily accepted the offer, happy to acquaint myself with a large and diverse network of PR people in the Bay Area and beyond. As Vanessa likes to say, no matter where you live, “Silicon Valley is a state of mind.” Under Vanessa’s encouraging and supportive leadership, I found inspiration and camaraderie among the many talented professionals in the PRSA-SV community.

The chapter’s weekly thought leadership program, #FridayForum, was a good fit for me, given my professional focus on networking and bringing people together. I ended up organizing and moderating three #FridayForums, bringing PR professionals, recruiters and journalists together to discuss industry topics.

I blended what was going on in my own life with my PRSA-SV work to bring the hard-learned lessons of the job search to the #FridayForums. I asked the recruiter at Amazon if he would be interested in participating in a panel about how to get a PR job at Amazon. He was, and I invited two other Amazonians who had coveted PR roles to join him. The result was an event where the trio gave tips and insights about getting a job and working at one of the biggest companies in the world.

Light at the end of the tunnel 

After a year of freelance consulting and helping other PR practitioners with their clients, I recently found a permanent role at Aircover Communications, a PR agency led by Silicon Valley veteran Mike Moeller.

The past year was a bumpy road, but the community, care, leadership and counsel from PR colleagues and mentors like Vanessa helped keep me on track, leading to new adventures and eventually helping me land my current role.

Though the COVID crisis for most of us is slowly fading into history, none of us knows when the next huge disruption will happen. I encourage professionals who find themselves in need of guidance and support throughout their careers to plunge into building and contributing to professional networks and communities. Seek out industry organizations such as PRSA-SV. Staying active in the profession, even when you don’t have a permanent role, is good for your mental health, your self-esteem and your career prospects.

Better times have arrived. The economy is starting to boom again, and infection rates are declining as vaccinations gradually increase. As we enjoy the brighter days, we shouldn’t forget the struggles we endured. We should remember the lessons we learned, the friends who helped us in trying times and the colleagues who readily supported our changing careers.

Caroline James is a PR Consultant with Aircover Communications and a board member of PRSA Silicon Valley. 

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