Why you need to be phoenix-like in your career

Are you feeling stuck in your role? How can you emerge ‘phoenix-like’ into a new stage in your organisation or career?

Last week I attended the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Employee Communications Section Conference, #PRSAConnect, in Phoenix, Arizona. It was an apt choice of location because one of the themes was about how to emerge from what you’re currently doing into something new.

I love this topic. Regular readers of my blog will know I run Exploration Masterclasses for Comms pros who are working in-house and curious about the idea of being a Comms Consultant as their next career step. I also run Momentum Masterclasses for existing Consultants to gain momentum in their business, be that clarity around their offering, attracting the right types of clients or knowing how to build sales.

See my Masterclasses page to discover these courses and many more to help you thrive in Internal Comms. The intention behind both of these All Things IC Masterclasses is to help practitioners spot opportunities to emerge, or take steps to shape a new career path. Sometimes the outcome is attendees realise they love being in-house and Consultancy isn’t right for them. That’s totally ok, honestly! My Masterclasses are your confidential space to figure out what good looks like for you. See the end of this article for upcoming dates.

Today I have a guest post for you by Stephen Welch @StephenWelch11, who is here to share his reflections following last week’s #PRSAConnect conference and what you can learn from the conversations across the pond.

I’ll hand you over…

#PRSAConnect: Phoenix by place, phoenix by theme

The conference was full of new ideas and new energy. A new energy that can make a difference. A new energy that can inspire. A new energy that can transform the profession, and help practitioners make an impact on their organisation, and themselves.

I saw two main strands to this in Phoenix. The first was some brilliant case studies from companies like Mercer, Love’s, the City of Mesa, UNICEF (among others).

These all focused on great campaign execution or new initiatives to ‘phoenix-ify’ the employee experience and deliver improved results. I’ll let others talk about these as I want to focus on the second strand: personal impact and business partnering.

In short, this second group of sessions answered the question: How do you ‘phoenix’ your career and make an impact at senior level?

Rachel’s too modest to say this herself, but her opening keynote (pictured below) set the tone for the conference and emphasised the importance of personal brand: emphasising the three Cs of consistency, clarity and certainty. These are the foundations of building trust with senior stakeholders. (Thank you Stephen – Rachel).

Rachel Miller

To build on the foundations, we also heard from the wonderful Priya Bates with a clear call to action and her 10 “we need to…” commandments for the profession. This was a stirring call to action, an appeal with emotional resonance.

We need to learn to let go

The highlight for me was #5: “we need to learn to let go”. One of the big challenges communicators have is their love for communication. This seems ironic. But in my experience, the technical skill of a great communicator – writing, editing, publishing, etc – while being assets at the beginning of one’s career, act as a blocker as one progresses. As you get more senior, your role changes from “doer” to “leader of people who do”, and you need to learn to lead through others, rather than doing everything yourself.

You can’t be both a strategic adviser and a copywriter. The stretch is too much and it makes it hard for senior stakeholders to see you in the way you want to be seen. As Rachel would say, it is about consistency, clarity, and certainty – you need to act in a way that is consistent with the image you want to be, be clear about that image, and give people certainly about what you do and (more importantly) don’t do.

A Jill of all trades is a master of none.

This is one of the themes we covered in my own workshop at the conference: Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders. How do you get a new motivation that can help you propel your career. Nothing wrong with being a copywriter but it is hard to progress if that is your only motivator. It turns out there are various tools and techniques you can use to manage that transition and ‘phoenix’ your career into a new guise. I’ll be covering some of these at my workshop at the IABC World Conference in Vancouver in June.

Taking time to think

A second strand of this theme is about being planful and taking time to think – daily, weekly, monthly, annually – about your career and your business. I went to two great talks on this topic. First up was Pinaki “Paper Airplanes” Kathiari with not only an innovative approach to getting new ideas, but also a simple process to get you thinking strategically in a new way.

And to close the conference, we had the inspirational Angee Linsey, who dared us to be deliberate with our careers. Her talk was (and her book is) full of practical ideas and provocations to help you be deliberate about progression and your own career. Lots of great tips to make an impact. Buy it. Read it.

Mapping out our careers

We all know how to do a stakeholder map for our communication campaigns, but how many of us have done one for our own career? Angee (pictured below) encouraged us to take deliberate steps to advance our career. And while I have a slight difference of opinion about this – I believe that luck plays an important role – Angee would no doubt reply and say, “the more you practice the luckier you get”.

Further reading via All Things IC: How to create, map and keep stakeholder relationships.

If you have access to the PRSA app, the you can download the materials from each session – or get in touch with the speakers directly. As part of my own work on the Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders project, we also have resources available, such as:

  • The different types of strategic advisers
  • How to build and develop trusted business partnering relationships
  • The six key ways to influence senior leaders and when to use them

Feel free to get in touch for more information.

Stephen Welch is Co-founder of Archetypical Ltd, the company behind Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders. We specialise in cutting-edge training programmes for functional people in complex organisations. Our flagship program, calledCorporate Snakes and Career Ladders, helps communication teams – in government, big multinationals and NGOs – learn how to be strategic advisers and deal with ambiguity. Prior to this, Stephen was a partner at management consulting firm Hay Group, where he led the communication and media practice, worth c$50m annually.

Post author: Stephen Welch.

Thank you for sharing your reflections Stephen, I enjoyed our conversations last week.

Read more about careers via All Things IC

Learn more about Internal Comms with me

My upcoming Masterclass dates can be found on the Masterclasses pages of this website. Full dates are below, there are just two places left for my IC Masterclass in London on 22 May, so do be speedy if you’d like to come.

Not based in the UK? I can hold a mini session with you via Skype, check out my work with me options. Please note my diary is currently booked until late September 2019, so I’m taking bookings from the Autumn onwards. Do let me know how I can help you.

Upcoming Masterclasses in London:

Thank you for stopping by,


First published on the All Things IC blog 21 May 2019.

Header pic credit: @CassBabilya.

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