By Justin Brouckaert, scholastic media assistant
Posted April 27, 2017
Talk a little bit about your path since graduating from the University of South Carolina in 2002. Your bachelor’s degree was in broadcast journalism. When did you start to realize you were more interested in communications and public relations, particularly in the realm of government?
I never actually went into television news; by the time I graduated I knew I wanted to tell deeper stories across more platforms than just a television broadcast. This was before the rise of social media, but people were turning more and more to websites for news. I had some envy of the depth of reporting that newspapers and magazines could do, but I felt they were missing out on the visual component that television offered. So I went into public relations, seeing it as a way to tell an organization’s story through print, television, pictures, advertising, and more.
My first job was with a local PR/association management firm in Columbia (Jones, McAden, & Associates), and that cemented my desire to work with organizational communications and public relations. I got involved with government communication after moving to Macon to work for a small nonprofit and help mange PR efforts for the local school district. From there, I began managing all PR efforts for that district. In 2012, I made the jump to municipal government as the director of public affairs for the mayor of Macon, who was then elected as the first mayor of our newly consolidated Macon-Bibb County. As part of the new government, I was hired to lead a new Office of Public Affairs that brought together public relations, media relations, crisis communication, website management, graphic design, photography services, television broadcasting, and customer service.
I really do enjoy government communication. It provides me the chance to tell the story of an organization that directly impacts my life and my family, and I get to be an advocate for government transparency, something that I would have pushed for as a journalist.
Currently, you work in the Public Affairs Office in Macon-Bibb County. What do you do there, on a daily basis? What have you found most challenging and most rewarding about the job?
On a daily basis? It’s never the same, which is part of the reason I enjoy this line of work. We’re at the center of our region’s media market, so the morning typically starts with a press release or reporters calling about a variety of stories. From there, all bets are off. My daily schedule is more of a suggestion than an actual plan, but I’m fortunate to have a great team working with me that is superbly adaptable.
One day we could be breaking ground on a new project, the next we’ll be supporting a community organization on its announced projects, the next we’ll be editing videos/e-newsletters/web content, the next will be a day of meetings with elected officials, and then we’ll round out the week and weekend with severe weather, meaning spending several days monitoring maps and managing communication from our Emergency Operations Center.
Overall, we handle all of the media outreach; provide all of the photography and video services; manage the website and train departments on its use; manage or have oversight of more than a dozen social media channels; host county-wide events like groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, recognitions, and more; manage the county’s customer service division, which takes requests from the public and assigns them to departments; write Mayoral proclamations and letters; serve as the Public Information Office for the Emergency Management Agency; provide executive level communication support to senior staff and the Commission; manage the government’s cable access channel and live broadcast of Commission meetings; and so much more.
And there’s only six of us.
Every day, the challenge is the reward. I’m fortunate (again) to have a team around me that sees overcoming challenges and completing the large amount of tasks and projects assigned to us as a goal and reward. They tackle everything that comes along with vigor and professionalism that I’m proud of, every day.
The most rewarding part of this job is we have the honor to be the communication conduit to our community. We recognize the work we do helps our Commission and departments reach our friends, family, and neighbors, and that those people have the ability to reach their elected officials and others that can solve issues in their neighborhood.
How did you first get involved with SIPA? How did the program shape your interest in journalism?
I got involved with SIPA when I first attended in the spring of 1998. I was a senior at Wando High School and made the trip as part of the Tribal Tribune newspaper staff. In my sophomore year at the University of South Carolina, I began working at the annual conference, and I didn’t miss a conference until the past three or four years. I now serve on the (SIPA Executive) Board and am excited to still play a role in this great organization.
I’d have to say SIPA has really helped shape how I see the field of communication from a larger perspective. When I got to college, the different tracks – broadcast, print, advertising, public relations, magazine – were all separate, but communication has changed in the past decade. The lines between each area are blurring: television reporters need to know how to write longer web stories; newspaper reporters need to have basic photo and video skills; PR practitioners need to understand advertising analytics; and advertising managers need to understand the strength of relationship building of PR. SIPA showed me, through how the students were building content and interacting with their stories, that this change is only going to continue.
What are some of your favorite memories from SIPA events? What did you learn or experience from those conferences that still sticks with you today?
I actually only attended one conference, but it introduced me to a much larger world of communication at a younger age. I’ve loved that, over the years, I could interact with educators to see what trends are up and coming in the communication field and to see how students are applying those to their school’s work. Many people have to read papers and articles, or go back to school, to learn about the newest things happening in their field; thanks to SIPA, I get to see it happening firsthand.
Talk a little bit about how and why you’ve stayed involved with SIPA over the years.
SIPA is a great organization for both young journalists and journalism educators. It’s also a place where practicing journalists and communicators can see what interests the next generation and how they are communicating.
By providing feedback from experienced journalists and teachers from around the Southeast, and allowing teachers and advisers to work closely together, SIPA is helping keep journalism fresh and alive. It’s making sure the next group of communicators are ready to serve the public and their communities.
What advice do you have for scholastic journalists coming up through SIPA?
Study all forms of communication and figure out which ones best reach the people that need to hear what you have to say. You have a unique voice by which you can tell stories, and it’s imperative you learn how to make that voice heard.