And we are off!

My first days as a Plank Center Fellow at FPL

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As a 2015 Fellow from the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, I was fortunate to be welcomed into the communication team at FPL, the third largest electric utility in the U.S., which is headquartered in beautiful Juno Beach, FL. I was invited to shadow their community relations, digital and public affairs teams as they go about their day-to-day work. My goal in participating in this program is to learn more about corporate communication, so that I can enrich my teaching and inform my research. I am lucky that the people at FPL are willing to help me achieve this goal.

My very first impression has been that everyone I meet is very open, friendly, and obviously busy, so I feel very grateful that they are taking the time to talk to me and allowing me to listen in on their meetings. My previous experience in Public Relations has been in government (especially in public diplomacy) and working closely with nonprofit organizations. I never worked in a corporate setting, something of great interest to my students. I trust this experience will help me communicate to them about this branch of PR much more efficiently and intelligently.

On my first day at FPL for the first few conversations I had, and meetings I sat in on, I kept trying to compare the things I was learning about with my own experience. Happily, I’ve found some immediate similarities, such as (1) the need to use the right messages and delivery tools for the desired audience and outcome (which, of course, is common to all strategic communication, but I was still pleased to see that foundation stand out right away); (2) the level of advanced planning and coordination needed to get things done (again not very surprising considering this is a very large company, serving millions of people); and just as interestingly, (3) the need for the communication team to know the company and the industry inside and out. I’ll touch on these last two points a bit more:

In terms of advanced planning, I was able to sit in on meetings for the whole team as well as for units of the communication office, and in each people where keeping track of many deadlines for products or events. Each of these had several moving parts that needed to come together. Although, like I mentioned, it is not surprising that this is the case since this is a large and complex operation, it is still very impressive. I was able to see copies of the planning documents they use, and will definitely take some cues from them for my next Bateman Campaigns class at DePaul. See if we can help students become as versed on keeping on top of things as this team obviously is.

Then there’s all the technical knowledge needed in an industry like this. I met a couple of new employees, who seemed to be adapting to the company easily. My first thought though was that the learning curve for them must be very steep (unless they are already from an energy background, I suppose). From my very first conversation, I started making note of terms I was not familiar with. As an energy company, the people at FPL are familiar with a lot of industry terms, policies, and technologies I had never heard about (disclaimer on my ignorance: I had to watch a YouTube video on nuclear energy to get even the basics of how it works. Thankfully, I had at least a general idea about wind and solar energy). Different teams talk about different forms of energy, worry about different groups of stakeholders, and work on different programs (with acronyms for names), all of which requires a certain amount of ‘lingo’ and a lot of quick learning.

My first few days have also reminded me of how necessary it is to be able to listen carefully and to ask the right questions (i.e. about those things you can’t figure out on your own, lest you overwhelm your hosts with your inquiries). For these first three days my feeling has been that I do not even know the scope of what I don’t know. As someone who got into teaching because I want to be a lifetime learner, this is not necessarily a bad feeling.

In the following days, I look forward to learning more about the work that FPL does with the community (both physical and virtual). Also, I am eager to discuss how the different teams set goals and evaluate the impact of their work, something that every PR practitioner knows is key to communicating how we are contributing to the company.

Stay tuned for more to come!

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