[Editor's Note: "Failure is the mother of success.” Thomas Edison tried thousands of light bulbs before he discovered his life-altering solution. Howard Schultz approached 242 investors with an idea for a chain of coffee shops. Nearly 220 of them refused the concept for Starbucks. It took Marie Curie years before she was able to isolate radium.
In this essay, former CCO Jim Simon discusses the benefits for PR pros of learning industry languages.]
As a history major, I had no grounding in business when I graduated.
I eventually leveraged a portfolio of freelance articles for Ohio newspapers about various topics–none business-related–into a temporary position with the state of Ohio Auditor’s press office. I had to learn the language of accounting and auditing so I could write news releases about municipalities' finances.
That language-learning skill carried over into nearly every PR position I held, including CCO at corporations in five industry groups.
My first CCO position was with a natural resources company that was relocating its headquarters from Toronto to New York. My remit was to start PR and investor relations (IR). I focused on learning the language of Wall Street to be able to represent the company to buy and sell-side institutional investors, shareholders and the financial media.
While working at chemical and two healthcare companies as well as a leading R&D organization, I had to learn science-based languages. Working closely with marketing, HR and IT helped me learn their languages. CCO roles at an international bank and a US bank and insurance company required knowing banking and insurance terms.
Having been on the wrong side of mergers, CEO changes and restructuring, I found language literacy, particularly in finance, to be a great differentiator in landing new positions.
As data and analytics continue to grow in importance, it’s critical for communicators to be conversant in those languages.
A Wall Street Journal reporter interviewed me for a feature on the qualities of resilient people. In the article, “Learn Languages and You’ll Always Land On Your Feet,” the reporter recounted the importance of: 1) Learning as many 'languages' as possible, 2) Building bridges to other functions, and 3) Differentiating yourself by articulating your philosophy, using language customized for your would-be employer.
Developing language skills requires the communicator to be a student at heart and an active listener.
Both traits typify well-rounded communicators. These communicators combine intellectual curiosity with an ability to understand stakeholders' points of view so they can develop strategies and programs that make a difference.
Jim Simon was a CCO at five companies. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org