In partnership with PR News, “Lessons Earned” is a series featuring IPR Trustees sharing a difficult lesson.
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 is the Founder of Jim Simon & Associates. He is also an IPR Trustee.