Member Spotlight

Andy Porter, Associate Professor at Simmons College

For this member spotlight, we interviewed Andy Porter, Associate Professor at Simmons College.

Over the course of your career, you have worked in virtually every aspect of communications. How did you get your start as a communications professional?

I was part of the final Vietnam era draft in 1972 after graduating from college, so I enlisted for three years and became an Army journalist. I attended the Defense Department Information School and got some great experience editing and writing for a couple of Army newspapers. That was my on-the-job training. When I got back to Boston in 1976–I know, ancient history–I got a job in the PR department of Friendly Ice Cream Corp. in Wilbraham, Mass. That started me on my organizational communications journey. And I got free ice cream.

One of your early roles was as an editor of the Boston Herald. How does journalism trickle into corporate communications?

Interesting story. While in grad school for journalism, I met the editor of the Boston Phoenix, an alternative newspaper. I began editing and writing for them and when he became sports editor of the Herald, he asked me to join him. I was a sports desk copy editor there–great fun, exciting and crazy at the same time. The skills used in journalism–skepticism, curiosity, vetting information, getting to the point and especially working fast–all are skills I used often in the corporate role. I believe there is still alignment between the two areas, even in today’s age of social media and decreased attention spans. The best lesson I learned from the Herald experience is that before I write anything, I ask myself “So what?” and “What’s the news?”

How do you ensure both internal and external communications are aligned?

It helps if the two functions report to the same person or organization. In my corporate role, I was always proactive in seeking out other communications people outside my organization to share goals. We also formed a communications “forum” that brought together external and internal people in the company regularly to talk about goals and projects. Ultimately, I think it’s a management task to align these goals, but communicators also need to be proactive.

How have you seen the world of communications evolve over the years?

Wow. How much time do you have? I think there has been more change in the past few years than in the previous two or three decades combined. Communicators now have so many more tools to use, but they are dealing with audiences with shorter attention spans and competing messages 24/7. It’s a big challenge for communicators. I think one of the biggest changes I’ve seen is around the demand for transparency. That, and less emphasis on top-down communications. Communicators have also had to become more educated about business/industry challenges and metrics.

You are now a professor of communications. What’s the most important lesson you try to teach young communicators?

I teach them about the importance of both “hard” and “soft” communications skills. On the tactical side, I stress that they learn multiple skills–writing, design, social, video, analytics–to make themselves more valuable in the job market. But I also emphasize soft skills like curiosity, confidence and creativity. Grads today need both.

Any advice for those students hoping to break into the communications world as professionals?

Other than what I just answered, I always emphasize the importance of networking in helping them get jobs. Organizations like IABC are very important for young professionals. I also tell them there is no better place to be than in communications, because you are often at the heart of major organizational decisions and can influence an organization’s success. You can’t say that about many jobs.

What have you learned over the years that you wish you had known in starting out as a communications professional?

The importance of talking to the intended audience before finalizing messages. It’s amazing what I learned about corporate messaging by talking to my shipping and receiving people, for instance. They would tell me in no uncertain terms what works and what doesn’t. I also learned it’s even more important to build personal relationships at work than I thought.

Why did you join IABC?

I was a young communications person in 1976 just out of the Army. I was working solo in a PR department and had no one to run ideas by. I read about IABC and thought it would be a great way to network, learn from more experienced people and perhaps even find a mentor. All the jobs I’ve had have come through an IABC connection.