One of the most comforting and exciting elements of working in communications is knowing that our skill set is required in every organization, sector and industry. A question I receive frequently when mentoring young communicators is whether to specialize early within a specific industry of communications or seek breadth. I am sharing my answer to this based on my own professional experiences, having also known people who specialized and established themselves in their niche. I’ve worked across several industries, including investor relations, financial technology, hotel, real estate, construction, restaurant, entertainment, automotive and publishing. I would not have it any other way. If you are considering expanding outside of your current specialty, here are four reasons why being an industry agnostic communicator helped me grow.
Easiest Way to Find What You Are Looking For
As a new communicator in the industry, it is very normal to experiment and discover new sectors and industries to find what you like. If you feel like something isn’t fitting, it can be very rewarding to explore. For those nervous about hopping into something new right away, there are always volunteer opportunities with IABC on the local or international level. Part of what helped me determine at a younger age that communications was the right path for me was getting involved in volunteer roles that tested my skills and gauged what aspects I liked.
Becoming More Comfortable With Unfamiliarity
Working across very different industries helped me become more comfortable and adaptable. Entering unfamiliar environments can be challenging and intimidate the ego. Imposter syndrome can happen at first, though as I enter each industry, I feel increasingly confident and adjust more quickly. I mentioned in my IABC Member Spotlight that we often want to steer away from discomfort as though it’s going to harm us. Engaging out of our comfort zones can be a great opportunity to learn more deeply about ourselves, grow into stronger leaders and embrace change as a constant through our lives. How we react in these moments can be the difference between tolerating change or moving with it and fine tuning it into innovative new ways forward.
Expertise Over Specialization
While each industry I experienced was very different, I often found myself focusing on similar themes of expertise. I was typically drawn to organizations requiring focus on change and strategy, whether that be overcoming a major industry challenge like digital transformation or supporting the organization to adapt through intense people and culture shifts or moving to agile methodology. As a communications leader entering a new organization, I now immediately assess the culture, tools, needs, tone, language, people and leadership while looking for immediate opportunities to make an impact. I look for value and people that haven’t been tapped into as much as they should, and this helps build trust as a new communicator while quickly showcasing my value in the organization. My specialization might not be a specific industry of communications. However, I would say my specialization and passion is facilitating change.
Working across multiple industries can offer a very diverse perspective in having examined many types of organizations, their challenges, operational models and complexities. My ability to problem solve with time has evolved, as I often enter situations that are new in some way and offer objective insights and strategic guidance where I can. This has come in handy for unpacking several complex organizational challenges, like the importance of dismantling silo culture for effective communications. I’ve also helped organizations assess their ability to create long-term change, in asking questions and auditing roles and stakeholder communication through a change management approach. Another element of helping organizations improve is readying them toward a more proactive state, like preparing cybersecurity communications frameworks to ensure readiness to action through any phase of a crisis scenario. All of these contributions were greatly influenced by my experiences as an industry agnostic communicator and being able to experience variety.
My ability to grow and drive organizations accelerated my success as an industry agnostic communicator and allowed me to become more comfortable with frequent change and unknowns. Whether you choose to be a specialized communicator or industry agnostic, it all comes down to one question: What is your end goal? I have found that generalizing in my roles and industries set me up to lead teams more effectively. I’ve also had the enjoyment of working closely and collaboratively with specialized communicators who I admire. Whichever path you choose, take your time, research slowly and consult your mentors and network.
Paige Strand is a communications leader with experiences across the investor relations, financial technology, hotel, real estate, construction, restaurant, entertainment, automotive and publishing industries. Listed on The Peak’s “Emerging Leaders of 2022” list, she is a regular speaker at communications events and webinars. Renowned and recruited for expertise in supporting organizations through major growth transitions and intense change, Strand completed her Prosci Change Management certification to further exercise leadership in both communications and change environments. Strand is the director of marketing and communications at irlabs, a dynamic investor relations firm. She is a writer, mentor, board member for IABC’s British Columbia chapter, evaluator for IABC’s Gold Quill Awards program and sits on the Economic Development Advisory Committee for the City of New Westminster. Connect with Strand on LinkedIn.