Test Drive My Job: Former Clinton Liaison Keren Johnson
Keren Odeah Johnson, 25
Job Title and Length of Time in this Role: Communications Associate, 2 years
Mopwater: Describe your path to PR. How did you wind up in this field? KOJ: Prior to joining the Dewey Square team, I got my start in media relations as an intern for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. I was responsible for putting together statements and found that I really enjoyed the communications aspect of the job. That was back in 2006 and I was really just getting my feet wet while still in undergrad. Fast forward to 2008, I worked on the Hillary for President Campaign as a superdelegate liaison. I drafted endorsements for our press shop. That experience really helped me to think about strategy, messaging and rapid response tactics.
I studied Political Science and Spanish at American University. While the coursework taught me the ‘how-tos’ of the field, I have gained the most from hands-on opportunities. At Dewey Square, I am learning a lot and discovering how to apply my background in politics and campaigns to the media relations field.
Mopwater: Describe a pivotal moment in your career. Did you have a mentor or internship that really solidified your interest in this field or helped you hone in on a specific focus area? KOJ: Dewey Square is a really awesome place to work because the people here are the best at what they do. When I came on board, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Working with the principals here has been awesome. The senior level staff have mentored me and shown me how to specialize in a specific skill. In my job, I am also given the opportunities to take on leadership roles. It is really awesome to know that people here trust me, support me and ultimately, everyone works together to achieve our clients’ goals.
Mopwater: Describe a typical workday including your work hours. What do you do all day? Describe your office setting and workplace. KOJ: I work M-F 9 to 6 but the job requires me to be up to speed with all current events. The reality is that we have a 24 hour new cycle and through blogs and social networking, stories are being reported all the time. My friends say that I am always the one at dinner or out on a Saturday with my blackberry in hand. The truth is I love my job and I am probably on my phone sharing ideas with my team.
I work right downtown at Metro Center. I have a beautiful blue office with pictures of my family and mementos from the campaign above my desk. The TV is on all the time (usually CNN or MSNBC) and I always listen to a little music while I work. Those are just some of the things that motivate me and keep me going every day.
On a daily basis, I do a lot of writing (or at least that’s what I love to do). I will staff events and interviews which is really an exciting part of what I do.
Mopwater: What are your favorite and least favorite PR tasks and why? KOJ: I like everything that I do; however, I recognize that I am better at some aspects than others. I am a very behind the scenes kind of girl so I prefer to write and strategize over pitching. My favorite ‘assignment’ is drafting op-eds. It’s not easy to capture another person’s voice and perspective so I really enjoy the challenge of crafting the over-arching story for a client.
Mopwater: Who are some of your (or your company/organization’s) clients, and what kind of projects do you take on for these clients? KOJ: It really varies. We develop communications strategy for non-profit clients as well as private sector companies.
Mopwater: Describe a recent project where you produced results of which you’re really proud. KOJ:Recently, I worked on the iKnow campaign which was aimed at educating African-American youth about the risks of HIV/AIDS. It was so neat to work on a project that gave a new light to a critical issue within my community.
Mopwater: What is your favorite thing about this job and do you think you’ll be in this position in 5 years? KOJ: What I love most about my job is that every day is different. I’ve never had a dull moment. In five years, I hope to be in this same field but in a different capacity.
Mopwater: What aspect of the industry are you most excited about? KOJ: I am most excited about learning how to blog. I love blogs because it allows everyday people to lend their voice and offer their opinions on current events via the blogosphere. In fact, my favorite blog is Blog On Sisters because it is a diverse group of women (and men) who have come together to create a global online community. It is a great forum for discussion on politics, faith, health and career.
Mopwater: If you could work on any dream project of your choosing, what would it be? KOJ: ANYTHING??? I would open a dance studio in Salvador do Bahia. As much as I love this gig and working in the political communications arena, I am a dancer at heart. I enjoyed visiting Brazil- the people, the culture, the natural beauty- it’s just alive! Most importantly, I believe in the ability to enhance a child’s life through the arts.
Mopwater: What if anything would you have done differently in your career up to this point and what advice would you give someone who is trying to break into your field? KOJ: I will say that I have been incredibly fortunate and not really had too much experience with this aspect of the field. However, my advice to any newcomer would be to save, save, save. You never know if after one campaign you are going to end up with a great job at a reputable firm or unemployed for months. At one point, I remember having to get to an interview without having the metro fare to get there. I also have several friends who slept on my couch for weeks while they tried to find the ideal position. It can be frustrating. Having the financial means to support yourself is really key.
Also, I would encourage folks to network and maintain those networks. I know it might sound cliché, but I am always sending an email here or arranging coffee there because I want to develop relationships with potential mentors.