In 2008, revenues were falling precipitously at a 75-person multinational public relations agency as clients pulled back on their PR efforts in the face of the oncoming economic crisis.
Amy Martini, who headed the firm’s corporate communications division, huddled with her senior colleagues to tackle the unpleasant task of deciding whom to fire. As bleak as this responsibility was, it got worse the week that she was downsized. After her unexpected dismissal, Amy faced the distressed biotechnology job market with only the barest idea how to wrap her head around the question: “What now?”
During the next year and a half, a few short-term gigs came her way – but none afforded her the opportunity to use her full talents and creativity. Until a break arrived.
In an interview with Mojo40, Amy talked about how she took advantage of an unexpected opportunity at a pivotal moment.
Mojo40: What was your biggest challenge while job hunting?
Amy: Feeling that I was still relevant. When I was employed, I was used to reading so many professional journals and having all these conversations, and suddenly it was hard not to feel plugged in.
M: How did you get your current position?
A: I knew Progenics Pharmaceuticals because the company had been my client twice before, when I was working at agencies. The CEO had been aware of my abrupt departure. While seeking work, I made the effort to go to industry conferences where I would run into contacts, and to stay in touch. That was a crucial step when my predecessor in this job, who was director of Progenics’ corporate affairs and investor relations, went on maternity leave. I replaced her and am currently acting director.
M: What do you know now that you wish you knew a year ago?
A: I have learned two big lessons. One is something I already half knew, which is that sometimes you are not done with something, you are just done with doing it the way you previously did. I am doing the same type of work I did in an agency setting, but now I function as an in-house person, and that makes a difference.
M: And the second lesson?
A: You must remain open to serendipity. This job is what I wanted, but I didn’t look for it because I didn’t believe it existed. I hoped to go back to work outside the home, but I also wanted to have energy left over at the end of the day. Agencies are high-energy places that can drain you of your life essences, if you permit it. The adrenaline rush can be addicting, but I also endured a one hour commute twice daily, and sacrificed major time with my family. Now I enjoy work that is intellectually and emotionally satisfying but doesn’t drain me entirely.
M: What are your specific responsibilities?
A: I oversee all investor and media communications, issues preparedness and management, and I have a hand in internal presentations. I liaise with the CEO, President and CFO to handle whatever communications and planning is needed.
M: What do you like best about the gig?
A: The environment, the people, the culture they’ve developed, and being part of an office again. I particularly enjoy how the work waxes and wanes, and allows me to catch up and think, plan and create.
Keep in mind that I was a “new kid” at this company and, at the same time, not a new kid. I had been in the company’s offices and on conference calls with colleagues. There were high expectations of my performance. One thing I’d recommend to others starting gigs: Someone hires you as an expert to solve a problem, but you don’t necessarily know that particular firm’s culture. So, set yourself up right. I went directly to the President and specifically asked him about surface logistics – how do you prefer that I communicate with you? – and therein conveyed a subtext: I’m going to be in touch a lot, tell me how you want to deal with me.
M: How is your employment structured?
A: I am not exclusive to them. My position is part-time flex, 25-30 hours per week.
M: What is the “50matters” thing that you have going on the side?
A: 50matters is an entrepreneurial side gig that is evolving in the social media space. When a close friend turned 50, he found the aura around that milestone rife with negative stereotypes that really didn’t represent him or others. Together, we wanted to affect expectations about what it means to turn 50 so it is not limited to jokes that you are nearer to over-the-hill. We are currently online polling the community of people over 50 using Twitter, for example, to explore what 50 can be.
The project was vital when I was out of work because, first, it provided intellectual stimulation, and, second, I felt if I wasn’t seeing a lot of traction in my area of expertise, I wasn’t going to just sit around, watch The Today Show and eat bonbons. I was determined to do something fun and interesting, and in an interview, convey that I was motivated and I had learned something.
For the skimmers out there, here is a recap from Amy herself:
- Stay in touch with your network and circulate.
- You are not necessarily done with what you did before, just done with the “same old” approach to it.
- Be open to serendipity.
- Have a side gig.
- When starting to work as a freelancer, set up a scenario that will be successful from the get-go.
Tell us what you do to feel relevant and positive, in the discussion below.
Photo courtesy Creative Commons, dirac3000
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