When Succession Communications opened its doors in October, I posted a blog about why I founded the company. We are focused on counseling companies on how to use strategic communications to shape the future of their business, and “PR to Power Your Growth” is our tagline.

In my mind, succession means the next phase or the next chapter. I thought it would be educational and rewarding for our readers to learn from some of the communications industry’s top luminaries about how they helped organizations chart their course as well as their own personal “succession story”.

Our kickoff succession story features an interview with Frank Walter, vice president of strategic communications at Child Trends. In this role he directs the organization’s branding and communication with media, policymakers, researchers, nonprofit organizations, and community organizations.

How did you decide that the communications field was right for you?

During my senior year of high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio, we had a career day. One of the speakers, Dave Meeker, was the president of a local PR firm. His description of the field captivated me. I found and read the three books on PR in our school library and decided this was my career calling. I sent a letter to Mr. Meeker asking if he had an internship program. Although he had only brought in college students as interns, he agreed to let me work for him during this first summer. It was a great experience. The rest as they say is history!

What led you to your current position?

I had not heard of Child Trends but a good friend is on the board and referred me for an opening they had for vice president of communications. I was attracted (and still am) to the importance of the organization’s research around improving the lives of children and youth—especially those who face the most challenges and hardship.

What was the most rewarding project you ever worked on to help a client achieve its growth goals?

I have had many rewarding experiences but the one that seems the most important is the work I did at MCI to help promote the Internet during its earliest commercial days, back in the mid-90s. I was very fortunate to work for a company that was the first to introduce a commercial web browser, an electronic marketplace, and access technology to improve the speed of the Internet at the network and user level. During this time, there was a tremendous need to explain the Internet. My job was to help educate reporters, policymakers, businesses, and consumers so they could better understand the technology, applications, and potential of the Internet. Our chief spokesperson was Vinton Cerf, one of the co-founders of the Internet. He is an amazing individual and true innovator (now at Google) and also a very effective communicator. It was a great and important time for me, MCI, and the Internet!

Has the evolution of the communications industry made it easier or more difficult to help clients navigate their path to success?

Easier. The availability of information, the ability to communicate directly with audience, and the access to metrics and consumer feedback and sentiment have changed communications dramatically in the last 10 years or so. The biggest challenge for communicators is to stay current with new social media advances such as micro targeting audiences and how to influence the conversation in the age of declining media readership and viewership to traditional media.

What advice do you have for individuals in the communications industry to advance their careers?

Consume buckets of news and media—especially those outlets that are important to your work. You cannot be good in this field if you are not informed.

  1. Think strategically. This means understanding what to say, how to say it, and when to say it.
  2. Take an audience perspective to communications. One message doesn’t work for all audiences. Understand the desires and needs of each of your important audiences and find ways to connect your message based on those desires and needs.
  3. Measure results. Be clear about what you want to communicate or achieve and define what metrics will determine your success. Then, of course, track and report those metrics. Find ways to improve areas that are not meeting your goals.
  4. Bonus tip….if you are applying for a job, be sure to follow the instructions very carefully. If they ask for a cover letter and references, include them. Seems obvious, but you might be amazed how many well-educated people do not send in complete applications. Those that don’t are marked “delete!”

What is the most important thing for small and mid-sized businesses to know about communications?

Understand the best ways to reach your customers and have a thoughtful approach to communications that reflects their needs, your value to them, and how best and how often to communicate with them. Word of mouth is extremely successful for the growth of small and mid-sized businesses. This means building good relationships with customers, vendors, partners, and others who come into contact with your organization.

What’s your perspective on the evolution of the communications industry, and how do you think communications can best serve small and mid-sized businesses?

Do you have a #SuccessionStory to share? Post a comment or email us!