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Walking a mile in their shoes: Professional Edition

Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Life, Public Relations, Work |

“You’ll never understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes” is a familiar quote to most of us. It reminds us that our perspective is unique to our experiences and that it’s impossible to really understand someone else’s situation unless you’ve been in a similar situation. I think this is true personally and professionally – and is one reason why I’ve tried to incorporate so many roles and experiences in my profesional career.

When I began my professional career, I sought a job in a PR agency because I felt that the variety of experiences gained in that environment would be helpful down the road. And I think it was a good move. After cutting my teeth at world-renowned Waggener Edstrom, I co-founded Kaufer Miller Communications and managed that for 5 years. When it came time to move on from that experience though, I realized that my entire professional experience to that point has been on the agency side only – I had no idea what it was like working within a corporation. So with the help of my friend Doug Wills, I landed a position working for Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers as his communications manager. I ended up working in a few different roles at Cisco Systems – including analyst relations, corporate marketing and sponsorship marketing. It was all a really fabulous (if not entirely different) experience for me. I learned about corporate politics (the good and the bad) but more importantly, how decisions are made and how processes work. I knew that this experience would serve me well if/when I found myself on the agency side again.

I later worked for another large corporation, Comcast Cable, when the company moved West (following its acquisition of AT&T Broadband). I was hired as Director of Communications for the Western Division and reported directly to the Vice President, Bob Smith (still one of my all-time favorite managers). Initially I performed traditional corporate communications roles – creating a comprehensive crisis communications plan, exploring new PR opportunities (including multi-culture marketing) and employee communications. But it was after a series of internal reorganizations I found myself in an entirely new role: producer of a short news segment that Bob had created and launched called Comcast Local Edition.

Comcast Local Edition segments were 5 minutes long and ran on CNN Headline News on the Comcast Northern California systems every :25 and :55 past the hour. Comcast had arranged a deal with CNN that allowed the company to use this time slot – provided it was still used for “news” purposes. Smartly, Bob and Comcast created this local interview format and initially invited/featured local politicians to appear. Naturally politicians jumped at the opportunity to appear for free on such a visible channel and to answer questions about their plans/philosophies in a friendly environment. This was smart for Comcast because they had a number of franchise agreements that were either expiring – or needed to be renegotiated. It allowed them to build relationships with key stakeholders – not to mention goodwill. It was a win-win for all involved except for one problem: having only local government officials as guests meant the segments could be rather dry as they ran non-stop each half hour, 24 hours a day.

I was asked to take over as producer of the segment and quickly realized that if we wanted the segment’s prestige value to grow, we had to up the quality of the guests and content. So I reached out to the community I knew best – PR professionals – and made sure they were aware of Comcast Local Edition as a potential media platform for their clients. Our rules were straightforward: the guests had to have a local (Bay Area) connection and they couldn’t be blatantly selling products or services. Soon I had compiled a very interesting and diverse group of guests across the five Bay Area studios where we taped nearly 100 segments each month (yes coordinating the schedules was a challenge). But it was a fun job as each taping date I knew I would be learning something new and interesting. Guests included Dr. Greene, book authors and psychologists such as Dr. Tara.

What was also fun for me was when I found myself being pitched to by PR professionals trying to get their clients on the air. I learned firsthand how helpful GOOD PR professionals can be – and what a pain in the butt BAD ones were!

It was a really fun and valuable experience even though it didn’t last very long (we moved a little more than a year after I assumed the producer role).

I was organizing my office the other day and found these two segments I thought I’d share. In the first I was able to shed the role of producer and be the interviewer with two of my childhood baseball heros from the San Francisco Giants: Juan Marichel and Orlando Cepeda. I had brought the CLE crew to the national cable trade show in San Francisco and we were shooting segments with various guests using our standard host. But when the host had to leave and I saw an opportunity to interview two Giants, I had to jump on it and do the best I could. I have to say, I think I did OK!

The second segment was the last one I taped as producer and I got to be the guest explaining my plans and dreams for my GreenforGood startup (as well as my plans to move back to Seattle). They are both fun for me to watch and already seem much longer than only 6 years ago.

Kaufer interviews Giants

Kaufer talks about GreenforGood, move back to Seattle

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