For the past 14 years, Steve Quigley, an associate professor in Boston University’s College of Communication, has been teaching tomorrow’s PR professionals about their future chosen career.
Quigley shared the ins and outs of his 25-year career path with PRSA Boston as well as some helpful lessons for young PR pros that he wished he knew when embarking on his professional trek.
PRSA Boston: What was your first job in the industry? How did you end up in your current position?
Steve Quigley: I was very lucky to be hired by Joan Schneider, founder of Schneider & Associates. Joan was – and still is – a great mentor and a great supporter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). I was similarly lucky to be hired by Boston University in 1999. Right place. Right time.
PRSA Boston: What do you love most about being in PR?
Steve Quigley: On a day-to-day level: The variety and the fact that we get paid to combine creativity, strategy, and tactics. On a fancy-schmancy level: The fact that every once in a while we actually get to create shared meaning that matters.
PRSA Boston: What has been a memorable PR experience (good or bad/ embarrassing) that turned into the most valuable learning experience? Please explain. What did you learn from this experience?
Steve Quigley: A long time ago, when I was with Schneider & Associates, we were in the final running for the McDonald’s New England account. The team decided to spend a Saturday morning working behind the counter at a local McDonald’s to experience the brand. At the time, my kids were quite young. When I got home, they wondered where I’d been. The rest went something like this:
Me: Cooking Egg McMuffins
Kids: Silence followed by look of awe. Then admiration.
Kids: That’s what you do!?
I could see the pride on their faces, followed by relief that at last they could tell their friends what their dad does for a living – with pride.
The lessons? Only PR people understand what PR people do. And, doing something that makes your kids proud is important.
PRSA Boston: What are some of the biggest changes within the industry that occurred throughout your career?
Steve Quigley: The web. Search and social have added so much to our bag of tricks. Traditional PR is as important as ever. Add to that our exciting and emerging roles in search engine optimizing, content marketing, stakeholder engagement… It’s such an exciting and challenging time to be in the biz. Not for the faint of heart or those who don’t embrace change. Great time to be a communicator for a values-based, nimble, authentic organization.
PRSA Boston: What do you think the future holds for the PR industry and its professionals?
Steve Quigley: Enormous uncertainty and opportunity. PR professors have been going on about “two-way symmetrical communication” since Grunig. Many of us worried the model would never fit reality. I may be naive but I believe the opportunity for PR pros is to lead the way toward genuine and valuable two-way communication. Companies like Communispace are doing amazing work by focusing on listening and engaging. It’s not just theory – it can be a powerful strategic asset. But capitalizing on it requires something that’s in short supply – humility.
The emerging role of community managers is incredibly exciting. Are you kidding? Imagine the power and significance of organizations that are (genuinely) treating the people we used to think of as “audience” as “community.” We talk to audiences. With community. For some, it’s just new words for the same thing. But some organizations are making a major philosophical/strategic shift in how they view/value stakeholders. Now that is exciting.
PRSA Boston: What is the number-one recommendation you would give to new PR professionals?
Steve Quigley: If you have kids, tell them you work at a fast food restaurant. (Kidding…mostly.)
You are entering an important and challenging profession. You benefit from the leaders who came before you and you owe it to them and the next generation to be a leader, to care for the profession, and to leave it better than you found it.