By Peggy Kulmala, MBA APR
In February 2014, I had the pleasure of spending an hour with Sharlene Smith, Principal of CommPlan Canada, at one of my favourite networking venues – Starbucks.
I wanted to meet Sharlene because of her extensive public relations (PR) experience in both the private and public sectors.
Although I knew I could learn much from Sharlene, I did not fully appreciate the magnitude of the opportunity until I realized I was sitting across from one of the leaders of the PR profession – in Canada.
A warm and engaging woman, Sharlene has been in PR since 1978, working for private companies as well as municipal and provincial governments across Western Canada. Her foray into PR was not a deliberate move; instead, she found herself in a PR-related position during a time of incredible growth and opportunity, and once there, made it her career.
Sharlene continued working in-house PR until 1997, when she left the B.C. provincial government to start CommPlan, a communication management consulting firm that specializes in strategic planning, training and coaching, facilitation and project management.
Widely recognized for her PR leadership and her expertise, Sharlene not only has taught the University of Victoria PR diploma and Royal Roads University PR certificate, but is also a founding member of both programs.
Sharlene has been a Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) member since the early 1980s. She maintains her Accredited, Public Relations (APR) designation and is active with CPRS’ College of Fellows.
With such wide and diverse background – along with her commitment to give back to the profession – I think it highly likely she has helped hundreds of Canadian PR practitioners shape successful careers.
Sharlene said there are still many opportunities in and around Victoria for independent PR consultants as well as small agencies. Sharlene also pointed out there are increasing opportunities to work in-house. However, these opportunities – both for external service providers and in-house positions – can be very competitive, and hard for entry-level practitioners, especially if new to Victoria, to access.
Sharlene said to break into this crowded, close-knit market, you should establish and carefully nurture your personal brand, regardless of your career path. Her contracts are essentially gained through networking, and she does not think she needs aggressive sales techniques to be successful. In fact, she said she’s only ever done one “cold call”!
My time with Sharlene was informational and eye opening. I was frankly surprised to hear how many opportunities exist in Victoria. I also learned from her that smart networking is more than the traditional mix and mingle, “business card swap”, and can include almost any interaction, face-to-face and on-line. You can build and nurture your brand through volunteer work, community service, and by giving back to the PR profession. With smart networking and a personal brand strategy, you can tap into existing opportunities, even create new ones.