By: Nicola Brown, MPC2014
- You’re an MPC 2013 grad and now a Communications Specialist for public affairs in the healthcare field. Tell us a bit about your role and what led you to this point in your career.
I work in public affairs at the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), which is the organization that represents the doctors of Ontario. I began working at the OMA a week after graduating from the MPC. I’ve been very privileged to work on many different projects during my time at the OMA. My position is a fantastic mix of politics, lobbying, and all facets of communications—media relations, social media, communications planning, strategy development, and issues management.
A large portion of my role at the OMA is advising members of the C-Suite on online engagement strategies and how to leverage social for communications campaigns and issues management. The nature of public affairs is very reactionary. You have to monitor the government and their actions very closely. It keeps me on my toes, and I’ve learned so much about government and media relations in the past few years.
My biggest success so far has been harnessing social media for the OMA, and developing a robust social strategy that is effective, informative, and engaging. We received an honourable mention from Ragan PR Communications for Best Social Media Advocacy Campaign for our 2015 #CareNotCuts campaign in response to government cuts to physician services. That was a wonderful surprise.
- You’ve explored cultural differences in the world of communication through various different angles in your career. For instance, your MRP considered how Canadian media handled coverage of the 2012 New Delhi sexual assault. Can you tell us a bit more about your research and what you found?
My MRP examined Western media coverage surrounding the gang rape that occurred in New Delhi, India, in December 2012. I explored the bias present in reporting on sexual violence that occurs in non-Western countries. The international press coverage this event received in comparison to the
Steubenville, Ohio rape case was an interesting example of how Western media tend to frame non-Western news events in a way that perpetuates colonial stereotypes surrounding people of colour in these nations.
I specifically looked at newspaper editorials and performed a critical discourse analysis of these texts. (I find that editorials often give a glimpse into the author’s and by extension, the newspaper’s biases). The media has a lot of power in the construction of knowledge about other cultures and particularly perceptions of gender in those cultures. I found that a lot of the editorials had reactionary and ill-informed visions of India and Indian women and men which were informed by a long-standing tradition of misinterpretation of people we consider different than ourselves. Indian women were repeatedly represented as oppressed sexually and societally by men, or as passive victims. Indian men were represented as callous and devious. The editorials were littered with imagery that feeds into the classic historic portrayal of non-Western nations as far away locales full of underdevelopment and corruption. The editorials also focused on adopting Western values as a way forward to improve the predicament Indian women were facing. This wasn’t done overtly, but rather, it was more unconscious through certain descriptor words, adjective usage, and other common latent themes that were found in all of the editorials.
This is problematic because this kind of portrayal imposes a monolithic identity on a whole nation and its citizens.
- In 2011 you served as an ESL facilitator for immigrant seniors. What did you learn in this role about language and culture? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
This was the best experience! Some of the seniors had lived in Canada for more than 30 years, while some had immigrated more recently with their adult children. I think we need to have a lot of respect for individuals who uproot their lives as adults and come to a new country. I imagine there can be a lot of feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Learning a different language over the age of 60 is no easy feat. It was initially very difficult to get my class to participate and talk to one another. Many had spent their whole lives in Canada, unable to speak English, while others were relative newcomers and very unsure of their skills. I had to find things they had in common with each other. Much of my work with them was helping them communicate with others in the class by using topics they were most interested in. For example, one of my projects was for them to bring a recipe for their favourite dish, and to translate it into English to share with the class. By doing this they could talk about why the certain dish was important to them, the history of the dish within their culture, and, most importantly, they could share it with their new friends and use it as a base to build a friendship! I didn’t want the seniors to spend their classes focusing on grammar and the technical use of English (that’s not what they were there for)—instead we spent our time learning conversational skills and about each other in order to build relationships.
- Why is it important for media and communication professionals to consider cultural differences when telling stories, interacting with the public, and shaping work environments for a diverse cultural population?
Cultural competency is one of the most important skills you can have. Cultural differences are very real, and miscommunicating them can lead to critical misunderstandings that can often perpetuate certain stereotypes.
One particularly important skill is communicating sensitively and effectively the diversities that our communities are made up of.
As communicators what we produce needs to be immediately clear to an audience. But we also need to make sure that the nuances of different cultures, beliefs, abilities, etc. are not lost when we do this. I always try to approach my work with that lens (even if I’m not working on a cross-cultural communications project), and constantly reflect on my own understanding of these differences.
What’s one thing you can’t go without every day?
My phone. I feel like it’s the essential tool for all communications professionals. You constantly need to be plugged in.
What are you reading right now?
I just started reading Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
It was actually given to me during the internship portion of the MPC program. A colleague at ING Direct (now Tangerine Bank) and I were discussing looking for jobs and internships. “You set your own worth, don’t let someone else decide it for you.” I found that such a refreshing statement; it can be applied to any facet of your life. You hold the reigns, and you can call the shots.
What advice do you have for recent grads?
Make sure you continually upgrade your skills by taking continuing education classes, or attending conferences or workshops whenever you can.
Don’t be afraid to apply for a job you feel like you don’t have all the skills for—you’ll be surprised how much you learn on the job, and how much you already know that you can apply to the position.
Finally, go on as many informational interviews as you can. Make sure you stay in touch with people you meet and let them know how you’re progressing in your career.