Each week, I get approached by a handful of students and young professionals seeking my advice on how they can kick-start their careers in crisis management. Although I would love to be able to give time to each and every one of you, my schedule doesn’t always permit me to do so, which is why I’ve created this page.
This blog post answers the questions I get asked most frequently, along with some added comments and insights. If you have additional questions, feel free to ask me them in the comments section below and I promise to respond. My hope is that this will turn into a good resource for scholars and young professionals – and for those of you who are ambitious enough to write me, perhaps you can connect with one another in the comments section and beyond (you’ll notice that networking is advice I share with you further down).
Additionally, if you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend you read my book Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World. This book provides you with my entire framework and the approach I take when working with clients. If you’re looking to work in the profession of crisis management, this book is an absolute must-read. You can order it here.
So, you wanna be a crisis management professional?
Being a crisis management professional is a big responsibility. Your job is to protect your clients, helping them be as crisis-free as possible and helping them manage the hard times when everything is on the line. It’s challenging and it’s rewarding. There’s nothing like being there for a group of people who love the company they work for and helping them better communicate and connect with their stakeholders.
If me saying this has sparked a fire of passion within you, then here’s my advice to you…
Understand the risk and responsibility involved with this career choice
Thanks to high-profile crises, viral issues, and fun television series like Scandal, crisis management is being seen more and more as a “sexy” and thrilling profession or service offering.
While the allure is understandable—from the outside, I realize it can look like a fast-paced, exciting career filled with adventure and heroism—what I’m seeing more and more is that this image and allure is presenting a high-risk scenario to many organizations.
I address this issue in the following video, as well as in this article. I highly recommend you watch or read this important message.
Entrepreneur vs. employee
Firstly, it’s important to know that you don’t necessarily have to choose to be a consultant or entrepreneur. Many crisis professionals work for agencies or for an organization in their communications department. In fact, this is probably the best place to start to learn the ropes and gain experience – not to mention that life as an entrepreneur has it’s own set of challenges.
Learn, learn, learn
Learn absolutely everything you can and then never stop learning. Consume all that you can about your passion, the industry, best practices, case studies, etc. The more you learn, the more you’ll really discover the depth of your passion (or not, which is just as positive a thing to discover) and it’ll all pay off. Subscribe to blogs and podcasts, read news articles, ask questions, research. Learn everything you can and never stop learning.
Keep up with the times
We live in a world that moves fast. Part of your task as a crisis management professional will be to keep up with this ever evolving world. If you want to be great (and you should never settle to be anything less) then part of your responsibility will be to spot the new trends, identify the risks early on, and seek out new communication opportunities.
Start your footprint
A good way to learn and to get yourself out there is by starting a blog. I can’t tell you how much this blog helped me learn when I first started out. It gave me a medium to work out my thoughts and draw my own conclusions. It challenged me because readers challenged me. It helped keep my eyes open to emerging trends and industry discussions that needed to take place because I was always (and still am) looking for a fresh new angle, something to keep me ahead of the others, something extra to provide to my readers. So start a blog. It doesn’t even have to be a public blog, just an outlet for you to keep your mind sharp, your eyes open and the wheels always turning. However, if you want to challenge yourself for the better, consider making it public.
Another plus is that, if you’re seeking a job in the field (either at a firm or with an organization) then you need more than a resume and a degree. You need to have an extra edge above your competition. A blog can help you do that.
Start your footprint now and it’ll grow with you and your career.
Understand issue vs. crisis
Another thing I’d like to add, learn the difference between an issue and a crisis. There are too many crisis professionals out there who don’t know this difference. Don’t be another sap who calls an issue a social media crisis. Please.
Build your network
Network. Get yourself out there. Instead of being scared of competition, embrace collaboration. This is the mindset of a leader. When I first started out, I worked and collaborated with my competition and it was the best thing I could have done. Not only did I get these amazing mentors who propelled my learning and my experience, but I made some wonderful friends that I’m grateful to have to this day.
The more you build your network, the more you’ll get your name out there and the more you’ll learn. And I don’t mean network in the sense of going to those events where everyone is pushing their business card in your hand and hoping you’ll buy their services. I mean connect with people in real life and on social media. Make friends. Show the world how you shine by helping others. And when you meet people on social, after a while, connect with them in person over coffee or on Skype. Relationships are key to your success. No one becomes successful on their own. Connecting with human beings is part of the magic of life. I promise it will be rewarding – in both your professional and your personal life.
A tip on reaching out to others
Reaching out to others to build your network is a great idea. However, please don’t spam people. Reach out to individuals for specific reasons and write them a custom, respectful and considerate request for their time, their connection – whatever. I can’t tell you how many times a week I get a request to connect on LinkedIn from somebody that I don’t know with no personal message or reason for them reaching out to me attached to it. If you’ve targeted someone and would like to connect with them, introduce yourself. Tell them how you heard of them and why you’re reaching out. Be considerate of their time. Remember that you’re requesting something from them and they don’t know you.
Here’s an example of an email I received recently from a student. This student showed true professionalism and respect for my time. He wowed me so much that I decided to spend twenty minutes chatting with him on Skype.
Whenever I meet new people and they say things like “what can I do for you? How can I help you?”, it always surprises and impresses me. Those are the people that make a positive and lasting impression in my mind. Choose to be that positive lasting impression.
Throw the idea of a punch card away
A student once asked me how I draw a line between my professional and my personal life. The answer is, I don’t. My philosophy for my life is to live it with passion and I’m passionate about my work. I’m also passionate about sailing, cooking, writing, my friends and family … so guess what? I sometimes work from a sailboat and can easily talk about sailing while I work. I don’t draw a line, clock out and become “the real me” at 5pm. I’m the real me all day everyday, following my passion and working towards my dreams. To me, this is the secret to a happy life and one of the things I love about being an on-call crisis management consultant.
And most importantly…
Fight like hell. Don’t ever stop. Believe in yourself and your capabilities. Don’t conform. The industry needs leaders with their own minds, not sheep. Be true to yourself and live your life with passion. The success will follow.
I wish you a lifetime of success and happiness.
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.