April is Communications month at University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career and Alumni Services. Throughout the month, we are highlighting the University’s communications experts to examine career and industry trends, and provide students and alumni a chance to learn about different career paths within this fast-paced industry.
Recently, UMUC Assistant Vice President for Media Relations Bob Ludwig answered questions about career trends and opportunities in public relations. Bob’s responsibilities at UMUC focus on managing the university’s global media relations and serving as a managing editor of the UMUC Global Media Center. With more than 20 years media relations, public affairs and science writing experience in higher education, he has served in senior roles with George Washington University, the National Academy of Sciences and the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).
Q. With the introduction of the internet and social media, a story can go viral in a matter of seconds. With this being said, what characteristics and personality traits does today’s public relations practitioner need to be successful?
A. Someone who is genuinely personable, with a strong curiosity and a commitment to accuracy and the truth. Also having a “nose for news” and to the ability to ask the right questions are key to enjoying a successful career in public relations.
That said, it is most important to build trust with journalists and others who you work with to promote a product, a person or an event. Without trust, you have no credibility.
Q. How did you begin your communications career? Have you always worked in public relations?
A. I was a career switcher. After starting out as a policy and economic analyst for the first five years of my professional life, I took an internship in sports communications at George Washington University. Working in college athletics requires a substantial commitment of time, including weekends, but can be the most rewarding work.
After working in the athletics department at GW for three years—and earning my master’s degree in higher education administration—I moved into the university’s central public affairs and media relations office, covering nearly all academic areas of the university, including international affairs, engineering, sciences, and business.
I have been in progressively more responsible media relations roles over the last 23 years, including as a science writer at the National Academy of Sciences, leading the public affairs and media relations office at the Graduate Management Admission Council, and now at UMUC.
Q. How have some of your career experiences shaped you into the public relations practitioner you are today?
A. I have been fortunate to be involved in many great projects, including producing a public affairs television and radio series, as well as dealing with an array of crises, from significant campus emergencies involving students to controversial subject areas that involve university policy.
I’ve worked for some great communications professionals who have high integrity and have taught me to always treat journalists, and the profession, with respect, regardless of whether they work for The New York Times or a student newspaper. As I mentioned above, it is important to be honest and truthful and to develop a level of trust that will serve as the backbone of your credibility in the profession.
At the end of the day, you are working for and with people. You need their trust to do your job.
Q. With today’s competitive communications landscape, what advice would you give a UMUC student getting ready to enter the public relations field?
A. It’s important to be the best writer and the best storyteller you can be. Take every opportunity to practice the craft by volunteering to write for your community newsletter, your company’s newsletter or a club’s website. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, writing is a skill that will get better with practice.
Way back when the legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow was looking to hire people, he didn’t necessarily look for people with experience in radio and television, he wanted people who could write well and be able to tell a good story.
For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here. Please check out the additional Careers in Communications content by clicking here.
Jennifer Tomasovic is the director, Communications for Career and Alumni Services at University of Maryland University College. She has spent career crafting communications strategies and messaging using both marketing and public relations tactics to enhance the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she has represented.