“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
– Edward Bernays “Propaganda”
If the two fundamental traits required for public relations are an interest in persuasive writing and an obsession with following the news, then I’d like to believe I’ve acquired these skills through fate. When I arrived at the University of Waterloo I chose Rhetoric and Professional Writing as my major. I really enjoyed my courses and one professor so much (the great Michael MacDonald) that I decided to continue on to earn my Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Communications. Mainly due to the fact that Prof. MacDonald was teaching a course entitled “Propaganda: Weapons of Mass Persuasion”. In that course we focused heavily on critical analysis of rhetoric, propaganda and information warfare. During that course I read Propaganda and Crystalizing Public Opinion by Edward Bernays and I found the whole history of PR eye-opening. Though my courses were focused on critical analysis more so than practical applications, nevertheless I wanted to become the invisible manipulator that Bernays wrote about.
The News Junkie
The other side of the equation didn’t happen in the classroom. I can safely say that the events of September 11th, 2001 forced me to be interested in the news, politics and the larger world around me. Of course I was only in grade 11 at the time, but the world really did change. I was glued to CNN that day and have pretty much been a news junkie ever since. Then the financial crisis of 2008 happened and I suddenly expanded my news interest into the economy, business and finance. Naturally these interests are always filtered through the lens of communication.
Despite my keen interest in Public Relations, I didn’t really have the proper education to work at a PR agency. I knew that a post-graduate certificate in Public Relations was a great way to break into the field, but after six years of University I didn’t feel that more education was the answer. So I began working as a technical writer and found it as boring and difficult as I imagined it would be. I hoped that pivoting to Marketing Communications would be more fulfilling at some level. While it was certainly more interesting than technical writing, it still lacked the larger focus and context of either PR or Corporate Communications. In the end, it didn’t matter how I felt because I was laid-off during company re-structuring.
I spent a long time looking for new work in a larger Communications role, only to find that despite my two degrees and work experience, I didn’t have the skills or connections necessary to land where I wanted. Interviewers inevitably asked questions about my previous experience in: project management, media relations, social media and internet metrics. I simply didn’t have what they were looking for. Having neither a job nor money, suddenly going back to school was more palatable.
I chose Centennial College because I wanted to learn from real professionals with real experiences. No more academics, no more theoretical analysis, no more knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I first looked at the type of companies I wanted to work for: Edelman, Ogilvy, FleishmanHilliard, Hill + Knowleton etc. and I saw Centennial graduates among their ranks. Then I looked at the type of Coordinators that ran the CCPR program: Barry Waite had extensive PR agency experience, and Donna Lindell had extensive Corporate Communications experience. Lastly, the courses focused on the specific skill sets that I knew I lacked. Add all those factors up and now here I am becoming who I want to be.