Harvard in Tech: Faryl Ury, Director of Communications at Aurora
I spoke with Faryl Ury, director of communications at Aurora, a company on a mission to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly.
Faryl has spent her career telling the stories of top brands. She has always enjoyed connecting with people, asking interesting questions, and telling compelling stories. While at Harvard, she was very involved with the Harvard Crimson, and after graduation, she worked as a journalist, tapping into her desire to be curious. As a journalist, it was her job to be where the most interesting things were happening that day. She worked as a reporter at the Associated Press and then at National Public Radio (NPR). She became quite interested with what was happening on Capitol Hill, so she worked with U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who was also the former director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard.
After spending several years in DC, Faryl began exploring what companies were truly changing the world and creating something brand new. She saw a TV commercial for Square, which was then just a small startup. She was instantly drawn to their mission and vision and applied to work there. Soon after, she joined to help build their communications team and moved to SF, where she was first exposed to the world of tech. At Square, she helped build the brand from scratch and was thrilled to be a part of the team defining the fintech industry.
Faryl realized she loved working with companies that were building category-defining businesses. Following Square, she joined Uber’scommunications team, was head of marketing for Dropbox Paper, and is now director of communications at Aurora, a company that is defining the future of autonomous driving.
Faryl shared her perspective on marketing and communications, learning about new spaces, solving problems under pressure, and advice for her Harvard younger self.
On working in both marketing and communications, Faryl underscores the unifying theme of her career: telling a compelling story. Through focusing on this core strength and interest, she was able to apply her skill set to a wide range of functions, including both marketing and communications. Over the years, the line between marketing and communications has become increasingly blurred. For example, when Faryl was working with Senator Shaheen, in addition to working with traditional media outlets, she worked on setting up the Senator’s Twitter and Facebook accounts so she could communicate directly with constituents: a communications strategy leveraging owned channels. Similarly, while she was at the Associated Press, she worked on a small team that established the first global social media strategy for the company, outlining how it could best leverage the then emerging social media platforms.
On learning about new spaces: Faryl highlights the importance of being curiosity driven. Journalism taught her to ask questions and seek out experts, a skill set she has taken to many other industries to effectively tell stories, build brands, and impact people. The smartest people aren’t afraid to say what they don’t know and ask questions.
Learning never stops. Be a lifelong learner. While she was at Square, Faryl took classes on corporate finance to better explain the business to reporters as the company was going through their IPO. Recently, Faryl has started an online typing class (somewhat successful) and took cooking class (not successful).
On solving problems under pressure: Faryl shares her framework of the 3 Ps: preparation, partners, and perspective.
Preparation: some problems you simply can never predict, but many problems you can prepare for. Think ahead about what could happen. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst and create possible plans of action for potential crises. That is key for crisis communications.
Partners: when you face a challenge, your first instinct may be to just bury your head in the sand and not let anyone find out, but it’s critical to involve the right partners. Having the right partners in the room can only strengthen, not weaken, your position and helps solve the crisis much more efficiently and effectively.
Perspective: even if something feels like a major problem in the moment, there will come a time when you look back and you have completely moved past it. This perspective comes with time.
On reflecting on Harvard: Faryl appreciates her time at the Harvard Crimson and was glad to have approached her college experience holistically, rather than focusing too much on just classes or just extracurriculars.
She would have taken more risks with her classes and dove into more topics she found interesting, even if just as an observer.
On advice for her younger self: Faryl notes that when you make a change, you’re not closing a door but rather opening a new one. When she moved from DC to SF to join Square, she initially worried she was closing a door, but in reality, through transitioning into the new world of tech at the time, she was just opening a new one. She could come back to DC and the public sector if she wanted to. When and if she did, she could bring even richer and more interesting experiences.
Looking back on her career, Faryl is glad to have focused on the most interesting thing happening in the moment. Instead of planning too rigidly and too far in advance, she focused on the biggest opportunities to define new industries and create long-lasting impact — from being a journalist covering Obama’s inauguration to working with a senator passing critical energy bills to revolutionizing the payments world and the transportation industry.