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Professionalism from Coast to Coast

Posted: February 12, 2015, 4:00 p.m.
by Sadie Schwarm.

A sea of professional opportunities stretches across the 2,565.55 miles of land from New York City to San Francisco. More people are chasing their dreams, leading them to offices all over the nation. But it is worth wondering what life these potential employees can expect depending on the job they accept. The risk of moving to a new city for a job can be both exhilarating and terrifying.

A study done by Livability titled 10 Best Cities for New College Grads stated, “People are looking to move to places that have jobs they want, homes they can afford and a social scene that allows them to more easily make new friends, fit in and engage with the community” (Livability 2014).

Professional culture in public relations, advertising and marketing varies greatly depending on the company, but what about depending on region? As individuals travel from coast to coast, change is no stranger. What may seem to affect people personally could, in fact, leak into their professional lives.

The transition

Is moving worth it? According to Megan Chaney, an account supervisor and writer at Origin Agency in St. Louis, the answer is yes.

“For me, the best rewards in life — professionally and personally — have come from taking risks. Wherever you go, your surroundings will absolutely impact the experience,” Chaney said.

Chaney launched her career after graduating from the University of Missouri in 2002, when she took a leap of faith and moved across the country to San Francisco. There, she worked for a few small agencies as an account coordinator and production coordinator. Chaney spent six months at IDEO as a business development coordinator and spent her remaining time in California as a project manager for Gap Inc. and copywriter for the Gap Inc. brand.

She then moved to New York City where she was the team project manager for a partner at Pentagram, before she moved to St. Louis. In St. Louis, her first position was account manager at a small agency called Propaganda. Chaney said she is now “very happy” as a writer and account supervisor at Origin Agency.

2247175803_13717b47d2_oChaney’s professional endeavors have given her great insight into professionalism around the nation.

“At each stage of my career, I was exactly where I needed to be — San Francisco taught me more about diversity, openness and creativity. New York taught me about being driven, passionate and never backing down or giving up. St. Louis has become a nice happy medium for me as I’ve matured,” Chaney said.

Like Megan Chaney, Ryan McShane transitioned to a new city upon graduating college. McShane earned a degree in journalism with a concentration in public relations from Arkansas Tech University. In 2008, McShane started as an intern at Taylor Strategy in Charlotte, North Carolina and has climbed the professional ladder over the past seven years to the position he now holds as account supervisor.

“For me, I was looking for a transition city, if you will. I knew I wanted to work in a midsize city and do sports public relations,” McShane said. “No one is from Charlotte; people are constantly moving to Charlotte from larger cities such as New York City and Washington, D.C.,” he added.

Regardless of preferred location, there are additional factors that make an impact when establishing a career. Now, more than ever, potential employees seek a professional atmosphere that best fits their personal culture, which explains why over the past few years there has been more emphasis placed on company culture.

Company culture

A company’s culture sets the tone for the office atmosphere. According to the Encyclopedia of Business (2nd ed.), “Company culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Since the 1980s, several factors have led American businesses to evaluate corporate culture alongside such traditional ‘hard’ measures of corporate health as assets, revenues, profits, and shareholder return.”

Finding the perfect company culture may be a challenge, but is worth the search. “Some agencies are known to be more buttoned up and corporate, and others are extremely relaxed with very few rules,” Chaney said.

So is it right to assume working in the hustle and bustle of New York City significantly differs from working in San Francisco? Chaney said that her experiences in San Francisco were more relaxed, which were vastly different from her experiences in the very high-energy New York City; however, she acknowledged that other people have had opposite experiences.

Chaney said, “Anytime you can meet and work with people with diverse skill sets and backgrounds, it will help you continue to develop your skills.” She added, “You have to be where you feel the most comfortable and where you think you can continue to grow, both professionally and personally.”

Christina Rich, an intern at APCO Worldwide and a graduate student pursuing a Master of Healthcare Administration at Columbia University, agreed with Chaney.

Rich said that regional diversity gives job seekers an advantage, especially in public relations. Rich graduated from the University of Alabama and had previous experience as an intern at Ervin | Hill Strategy and as a research assistant at kglobal in Washington, D.C. She now resides in New York City.

Rich said, “Working in a different city or state widens your network, at the very least.” She added, “A variety of experiences will set you apart from the other applicants.”

Rich’s professional experiences in Washington, D.C., and New York City have been completely different. This seems peculiar since the cities are both located on the East Coast, but explains why job seekers should prepare for a transition if they choose to make such a drastic move.

“Washington, D.C., is a city full of high-powered, highly intelligent people, and they dress the part,” Rich said.

Her experience was noticeably different in New York.

“While New York City is also full of smart people doing exciting work, they seem to make up for their crazy schedules by keeping dress more casual,” Rich said.

So, understanding that professionalism varies across the nation, is there more to consider than just researching the company cultures of organizations and agencies? According to Chaney and Rich, region does have an impact; but moreover, it is the upper management that controls the professional atmosphere.

Chaney and Rich both said that partners, owners, CEOs and management teams set the tone of an agency, which trickles down to the staff. When looking for a place to start or continue developing a career, this makes researching how to find the most comfortable office culture extremely important.

Left to right, Spencer Dale, executive director for financial stability at the Bank of England, Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, Jon Cunliffe, deputy governor for financial stability at the Bank of England, and Andrew Bailey, deputy governor for prudential regulation at the Bank of England and chief executive officer of the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), walk inside the bank before attending the bank's financial stability report news conference at the Bank of England in London, U.K., on Thursday, June 26, 2014. Carney waded into Britain's property market today, limiting the number of riskier mortgages to prevent an unsustainable buildup of consumer debt derailing the economic recovery. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Mark Carney; Spencer Dale, Jon Cunliffe; Andrew Bailey

A way of life

Additionally, when developing a career, expect to put in the hours. According to a survey done by Harvard Business Review titled Welcome to the 72-hour Work Week, “Of 483 executives, managers, and professionals (EMPs), we found that 60 percent of those who carry smartphones for work are connected to their jobs 13.5 or more hours a day on weekdays and about five hours on weekends, for a total of about 72 hours.”

This means that 62 percent of the hours that individuals are awake are spent connected to work; that is 82 percent of hours connected on weekdays alone (Deal, 2013). An article by PRNewser tied this study to public relations professionals and their long hours due to the constant flow of news.

Working long hours is a reality not to be taken lightly, and holds true regardless of region.

“Because work is a huge portion of your life, it will inevitably bleed into your personal life – it’s not something that just ‘turns off’ at 5 p.m.,” Chaney said.

Once potential employees are aware of the hours and dedicated to making the move, they have to successfully get a job. According to Chaney, leveraging connections is critical. This advice is common, yet many people still do not use it to their advantage. Networking is crucial, especially in the public relations and communications fields.

Once potential employees have used their connections to the best of their ability, then they need to continue to think critically. Before officially relocating, Rich had a suggestion.

“Talk to people who are from that area or are currently there. Have an honest conversation about what it’s really like there,” Rich said. “New York isn’t as glamorous as it seems, which is wonderful in my opinion,” she added.

Research locations and plan what life in the desired location would be like due to traffic, weather, atmosphere, etc. Be realistic about expectations, and then take the plunge.

“If it’s a competitive market for public relations jobs, like New York City or Los Angeles, and you’re truly serious about being there, save up and move without a job. It’s much easier to find a job when you’re located there already and can go on interviews,” Rich said.

Additionally, McShane said, “I would recommend visiting where you are looking to live first before you commit. Take a three-day vacation with your parents or friends to check it out and explore. It is important to at least have an understanding of the area.”

Since so many hours of the week are spent at work, it is important to live in a place where it is possible to feel comfortable in the few hours left for leisure. “You really have to think through where you accept a job. You are not just committing to a job, but you are committing to a life,” McShane said. “My life is in Charlotte,” he added.

Whether deciding to start a career by moving out to the West, the East, the South or even the good ol’ Midwest, there are some words to remember.

“Fail faster to succeed sooner.”

Megan Chaney passed down this piece of advice from her experience at IDEO.

“This nugget of wisdom from David Kelley has always stuck with me, and I think it’s so important to keep in mind, particularly in this success-driven world we live in that has very little patience for mistakes,” Chaney said.

Maybe packing bags, pulling up the map on the GPS and relocating to a new region is worth it.

Cultivate independence, develop personal culture, and immerse in diversity because then it is possible to find the perfect fit, both professionally and personally. Do not let the fog of tomorrow ruin the vision of today because it is now apparent failure paves the way for success.

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