Chris Gent, a 23-year public relations industry veteran, was recently named the 2010 Central Florida Public Relations Professional of the Year by the Orlando chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA). Chris is vice president of corporate communications for Kissimmee Utility Authority, and serves as FPRA’s statewide vice president of technology. Chris will be honored at the Image Awards ceremony tonight.
Here, Chris discusses how great communicators succeed and why PR professionals should never stop learning.
Best advice to PR professionals:
“Continue to learn. Even though most of us have graduated from college, our diplomas shouldn’t mark the end of our education. In fact, the best PR professionals I know are the ones who continue to learn each and every day. I recommend educating yourself on things that will make your organization shine and raise your value as a professional. Spend some time perfecting your writing so you can better tell your organization’s story. Set up a blog so you can learn how technology works. Learn how to shoot, edit and create a video to inform or inspire others. Find a mentor to help grow your career. Go back to school and get an advanced degree to upgrade your skills and credentials. Join a professional association like FPRA or Public Relations Society of America to network with other communicators. Seek professional accreditation to demonstrate your commitment to personal and professional development.”
Best PR decision I’ve made:
“I’d like to think I’ve made a few good PR decisions over the years. One was accepting a position at Kissimmee Utility Authority back in 1993. That decision has led to a great career so far. When I speak to student groups I always encourage them not to overlook lesser-known companies when seeking employment. Everyone dreams of landing a PR job with the Disneys, JetBlues and Googles of the world, but in reality there are thousands of smaller, lesser-known companies and PR agencies that offer amazing opportunities for advancement and growth.”
A PR mistake I’ve learned from:
“I’ve learned to listen to both sides of a story before reaching a conclusion or opinion. There’s a saying that God made us with two ears and one mouth for a reason. We should listen twice as much as we talk, because listening is twice as hard to do well. Great communicators are always great listeners, and what they say always relates back to what they heard.”
Favorite PR-related or business book:
“Applebee’s America by Ron Fournier, Douglas B. Sosnik and Matthew J. Dowd. It was required reading for a graduate school course, but it’s a fascinating look at how successful political, business and religious leaders are connecting with the new American community. The book is written by a former Clinton aide, one of the masterminds behind the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign and a senior Associated Press political correspondent. It’s a tremendous read that directly applies to our role as communicators.”
What are some publications or online resources that you read regularly?
“For the past 20 months, I’ve been a graduate student at The George Washington University earning a master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations. Most of the publications I’ve read during that time have consisted of textbooks, case studies and lectures. I do manage, however, to find time to read the statewide and local publications produced by the FPRA. I subscribe to The Economist, Florida Trend, Orlando Business Journal and PRWeek. I also follow a number of industry and PR-related blogs, including this one. I enjoy learning about the successes, challenges and failures that other business professionals face. I believe we can always learn something from their experiences.”