Test Drive My Job: APCO Online Social Media Strategist James S. Walker

Today’s TDMJ profiles James Walker, an incredible social media specialist who is just starting his career in PR. James is a junior project manager for APCO Online , a division of the global agency APCO Worldwide. James works in Washington, DC and I discovered him through his insightful tweets about PR and his informative blog Gen Y PR Prescriptions.

When he met me recently at a DC Starbucks, James told me how important it is to claim a piece of the social media pie for yourself if you’re a PR person calling yourself a social media strategist/expert (read: start your blog!) Hopefully I’ll be able to get the video footage of that timely interview up this weekend, pending tech support. For now, here’s James:


James S. Walker
Washington, DC
Age: 22
APCO Worldwide
Junior Project Manager, APCO Online
length of time in role: 6 months

Blog: Gen Y PR Prescriptions
Twitter: @Jaywalk1
Linkedin: in/jswalker

Mopwater: Describe your path to PR. What made you want to get into the field?

JW: I discovered PR right around the time I decided to declare a major at George Washington University. I made a call home to check in and mentioned that I was planning to major in Communication. My mother replied: “What kind of job can you get with that major?” I said: “Umm…(scratching head) you know…Communications positions.” At that point, Communication just seemed interesting, but I knew that I would never hear the end of it if I didn’t come up with a good answer, so I went to work.

After reading books, taking career assessments and browsing hundreds of sites, I decided that PR was it. Glad that I figured it out, I called back home and made a compelling case showing how I would get a job in PR. Her response: “So… what exactly will you do?”

Reflecting back on my answer to her then reminds me of the opening for MTV’s The Real World – “You think you know, but you have no idea.” I have worked (internships and full-time) in a number of Communications roles since then, from university relations and special events to CNN’s Crossfire at GW to public affairs and crisis comms shops to a health care communications firm and now a global communications agency.

In my short time in the industry, I’ve worked steps away from James Carville and Donna Brazile, helped prepare for prescription medication product launches, developed materials for patients with chronic pain and diabetes, and proposed social media strategies for tech giants. Each position taught me something new about the industry and myself, allowing me to grow both personally and professionally.

Mopwater: What aspects of the industry are you most excited about?

JW: I am most excited about the role the PR industry already is and will continue to play in the development, promotion and adoption of social media among businesses and other organizations.

I think the industry is well positioned to not only teach groups how to engage in social media but also to provide communications counsel on how to engage in a way that benefits them and their audiences, the people they serve.

Mopwater: Describe your office and workplace. How many co-workers do you have? Where, how, and how often do you collaborate with them?

JW: I currently work in APCO’s Washington, DC office as a member of APCO Online. The online team in DC is about 15 people strong, but given that APCO is a global agency, we have people all over the world. Officially, I guess you could say that I have close to 600 co-workers.

I mainly interact with people in the DC office, but depending on the projects we are focused on, I may interact with people in 2 or 3 time zones in one day.

Mopwater: Describe a typical workday including your work hours. What do you do all day?

JW: I imagine that a typical workday for me is pretty similar to most PR professionals. It involves lots of news in the morning. It’s a mix of cable network news, the Express paper, WashingtonPost.com, NYTimes.com. After that, things get pretty “social” and Twitter takes over as the main source for news.

Once I feel caught up to speed, I can start my general work day. It usually includes the following things:

– online team meetings
– creating email newsletters
– writing web activity reports
– working with designers and developers to create widgets and websites for campaigns
– participating in social media strategy sessions, and
– conducting a great deal of research online, scanning for client/issue-related discussion on a range of topics.

Mopwater: What are your favorite and least favorite PR tasks? Do you love to pitch? Do you dread writing releases?

JW: My favorite PR tasks include coming up with social media strategy, participating in brainstorms and figuring out if and how new tools can work to achieve clients’ goals.

I rarely pitch reporters now, but when I did, I had a love/hate relationship with it. I loved pitching when I had really great information to share, but I hated pitching blindly because of the urgency of the project. I’m at my best when I have time to do some independent research and turn “the pitch” into “my pitch.”

Now when I reach out, it tends to be towards bloggers and I enjoy doing that a great deal.

Mopwater: Describe a recent project where you produced results you were really proud of.

JW: I participated in a new business pitch for a top tier company. When I joined the team, I was tasked with developing and presenting sections on online communication and social media. My ideas were well received and the client shared that they had considered some of things I proposed but were not sure how to proceed. In some ways, it showed a link in our thinking. Given the level of experience and knowledge that they held, it felt great.

Mopwater: What is it like to work in a huge agency that has offices around the world? Do you ever feel like you’re just a number? Are you able to get close to the clients and make them aware of your unique contribution to their projects? If not, does that bother you?

JW: It certainly is interesting working for a global agency, but it has its challenges. The wealth of knowledge shared by co-workers is truly amazing. I can rest assured that if I am not familiar with a specific topic someone in the company is an expert in that area.

The main challenge I’ve encountered thus far is scheduling. It can be difficult to align schedules when you have to do a call with people in New York, London, Brussels and Beijing.

I have never felt like a number. While the company is large, there are a number of smaller teams focused around practice areas (ex. Healthcare, Issues Management, Litigation Communication). One nice thing is that while you do have a focus area, many people work across practice groups. As a result, you meet and work with people from all sorts of career backgrounds.

Mopwater: What’s the work environment like in terms of diversity at APCO?

I think that we are similar to most firms of our size when it comes to diversity. There’s room for improvement, but in order for that to happen, more people from diverse backgrounds need to enter and stay in the field. PR, as an industry, is hurting in this area.

Industry diversity is something that I think about quite a bit, and I have a few ideas about how to improve things. If anyone reading this has resources they would like to share, let’s talk!

Mopwater: What is your favorite thing about working at APCO?

JW: My favorite thing about working at APCO is the interesting work I do everyday. At times, it can be very challenging, but the creative solutions I can join in creating make it worth it.

Mopwater: What do you wish was different about working at APCO?

JW: Probably not what you’re expecting, but I wish I had an office with a window that let in lots of sunlight! That would greatly improve my work experience!

Mopwater: We’ll call our people and see if we can get them to flex on the folks at APCO and get you a window. Do you think you’ll be in this position in 5 years? If not, where do you see yourself?

JW: Will I be at APCO in 5 years? That is likely. Will I be in this position in 5 years? 86 percent sure that that’s a big NO. I’m not even sure my current position existed 5 years ago, so who knows what 5 years of industry development will bring. I’m looking forward to finding out though.

Mopwater: Thanks, James!

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