Metro Atlanta public relations professional John Smiles says he chose a career in PR because he always felt he could promote anything. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama, where he studied communications, majoring in public relations. Today, the long standing PRSA Georgia member serves as the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications for Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta. He has worked in the non-profit public relations and marketing industry for over 20 years, and in this edition of Chapter Chat, he talks about how he is leading his team, working with youth, career highlights, and doing public relations during the pandemic.
Question: What do you do for the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta?
Answer: My primary job is to help raise awareness of the Girl Scouts, and our mission is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. I guide a fantastic team of public relations, marketing, digital strategies, design, and e-commerce professionals who work very hard to help the community understand what Girl Scouts offers young women now and in the future.
Q: What is most rewarding and what is most challenging about your current job?
A: Getting to work with youth is rewarding. There is a misperception that I am somehow meeting with Girl Scout troops regularly but that is not accurate. We spend many weeks arranging marketing and public relations opportunities that include our members. When those events finally occur and go according to plan, that is extremely rewarding. There is a lot of competition for youths’ interest and time today. This and to break through coming up with innovative marketing strategies is an increasing challenge.
Q: What experience do you feel led you to your current job, and what do you feel is your specialty or focus?
A: Again, I had been working in the nonprofit public relations and marketing field for more than 20 years when I joined the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta. (Smiles has worked at the organization for over seven years). I certainly know that experience was a key factor. In addition, I was bringing somewhat of an outsider’s perspective being that I obviously had not been a Girl Scout. While I was familiar with the organization from my daughter’s involvement in the organization, I was able to bring a fresh perspective. Working in the non-profit sector, I have been fortunate to hone many skills besides public relations because of the limited staffing and resources. I have been able to develop a vast knowledge in marketing, digital strategies, and advertising over the years.
Q: As a seasoned PR professional, what are some of the highlights of what you do?
A: My highlights are what my team does which is making sure that our members and the community at large know what our organization is doing. During the pandemic this was extremely challenging. We had to transition all our programming to virtual services, which required a tremendous amount of communication, web and social media messaging, and advertising. It was probably the most challenging yet rewarding year of my career.
Q: Where do you find creativity and inspiration?
A: When you work with youth, you have to work at their speed which is always very fast. I find great inspiration in understanding how our youth members want their information and adapting our messaging accordingly.
Q: How do you feel the pandemic has affected public relations professionals’ ability to work?
A: I truly believe the pandemic allowed communications professionals to shine. It showed companies how important updated messaging was and provided public relations professionals a platform to work with their key stakeholders.
Q: You have been a member of PRSA since 1994. Why is membership with PRSA helpful to a career in public relations, and how have you found value in your membership to the organization?
A: I have found value in my membership to the organization because PRSA provides a great way to stay connected to other public relations professionals and provides excellent professional development opportunities. I would recommend it to anyone working in the public relations or communications industry.
Q: Looking back, what would you say to your younger self getting into a career in PR?
A: Find something you are passionate about. I always felt I could promote anything, but it is so much more rewarding to promote something that you like and believe in.
Q: What is your favorite social media channel, and how can someone best connect with you?
A: Twitter is probably my favorite social media channel. I am not a big content poster, but I love to follow reporters and groups that interest me personally and professionally. If someone would like to connect, I would encourage them to connect with me via Twitter @johnmsmiles!