How Military Service Can Build the Foundation of a Successful PR Career

The month of May offers different opportunities to honor the contributions of those serving in the military. Memorial Day may be the best known as a time to remember those who lost their lives while serving. Additionally, the third Saturday in May is designated as Armed Forces Day. This occasion was first observed in 1950 and recognizes the contributions of current service members in all military branches.

For veterans who transition out of the armed forces, many find the knowledge and skills acquired during their service can give them an edge in civilian careers. In fact, PRSA offers its Moving Veterans Forward Program to help veterans with public affairs skills make this transition.

We recently caught up with long-time Chapter member Mary Newton, APR, who started her career in the Air Force and shared how her military background has helped her soar professionally.

How did your military service prepare you for roles in a non-military setting?
I started my career in 2003 in the United States Air Force where I served as a public affairs officer for more than five years. I entered the military as a junior officer with very little experience, but I was charged with supervising people who had much more experience. I learned early on that I was most effective at earning their respect and confidence as a leader when I looked to them as mentors and leaned on them for their expertise. I made the effort to really learn and understand their roles and responsibilities. This and my military experience in general were instrumental in developing good interpersonal skills, which I believe have been key to my success.

What role did PRSA and the Georgia Chapter play in your career?
Even though I earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Georgia, and a master’s degree in communication from Johns Hopkins University, I didn’t get involved in PRSA until I became a civilian. I was grateful for PRSA so I could learn more about practicing PR in other sectors, and most importantly, for the network of professionals I met who helped guide and mentor me throughout my career.

As an APR, is there a connection between earning accreditation and serving in the military?
My military experience helped me become a more disciplined and motivated professional, which certainly helped me achieve my APR.

Based on your military experience, what advice would you give to recent graduates and young professionals working in PR to help them succeed in their careers?
My military service was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional and personal life. I gained confidence, leadership skills, and mental (and physical) toughness to deal with a variety of challenging situations. Of course, you don’t have to serve in the military to gain the skills necessary to succeed in PR or other professions, but I will never forget the Air Force’s core values, which I still live by today. I think recent graduates and young professionals would benefit by embracing them: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.

Mary Newton, APR, is PR/communications consultant and owner of M. Newton Communications. Previous career steps include PR and communication roles with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and nonprofit nursing home provider A.G. Rhodes.