Career Tips for Communicators from a Pair of Boots

 [Editor's Note: May is Military Appreciation Month. It's in this spirit that we publish the following, which offers tips from a PR pro's military experience.] 

Helping brands expand mindshare and build awareness are constantly at the forefront of the PR pro's thoughts. A lifetime ago, I had another calling.

As a Second Class Petty Officer (Avionics Technician) in the U.S. Navy, my typical day working on aircraft seems a lot different from what I do today. Yet I can’t help but reflect on how much the Navy unexpectedly prepared me for a career in PR and communications.  I received hands-on exposure to so many experiences that have made me a better communicator, especially when it comes to:

  • Flexibility
  • Staying cool under pressure
  • Leadership
  • Troubleshooting
  • Managing up and down the chain of command
  • Developing procedures and
  • Risk management

Those examples form just the tip of the iceberg.

A simple ritual is at the root of all this. The Navy teaches you why it's important to shine your boots.

Getting Booted

The Navy issued my first pair of military boots, also known as boondockers, in 1999. Those boots were uncomfortable, unfashionable, and had an unpleasant odor; they were, however, very important. Once, I was forced to do a few hundred push-ups after I had the bright idea to ask why the boots didn’t float. (I promise that question made sense to me at the time.)

During the first week in bootcamp, recruits are taught to meticulously polish and care for their boots. You mark Sundays by sitting on the floor and working the toe of your boot into a mirror shine. As a ‘raw recruit’ you do this simply because you’re told.

For four or so years following graduation, I kept up with this ritual religiously. I polished my boots no matter where I was or what I was doing. To this day, I find time to polish my dress shoes.

What does this have to do with communications, PR, or public affairs? The regimented approach to shining boots can be translated easily to any communications program. You can boil it down to these key tenets:

Protection

  • You shine your boots to protect them. It keeps the leather safe no matter what the world throws at them. This is the same logic that should underlie any well-designed communications plan. You need to anticipate a variety of challenges. Protecting the brand in the public arena is the communicator's job. Good communication is like polish—when you apply it in a smart, prescriptive way, you can effectively protect your brand.

Regimen

  • Regardless of what your boots look like, like clockwork you know they need polish. This sense of routine and commitment serves you just as well in communications. It doesn’t matter what you did last week—today you must head back into the fray to make sure your message gets out. Communicators know that brand executives constantly, “What have you done for me lately?” Answering that question can determine our success. Regular attention to brand reputation is invaluable.

Shine

  • Finally—and you often only learn this years later—the least important thing about polishing your boots is the shine. Sure, a shine may look nice, but the importance of polishing comes down to long-term care of your boots. Dazzle and shine aren’t fundamentally the point when it comes to communications and PR. Yes, a flashy campaign is nice. Yet a more fundamentally sound approach is to build a communications plan with the idea that it may need to help support goals years into the future.

It isn’t about the shine of getting a good story or the power of seeing your grassroots group's event fill the steps of the state house. The goal is to protect your brand, do the right thing, and keep a program running, because eventually you know it will shine.

Anthony LaFauce is an SVP at Clyde Group