By: Yadira Y. Caro
Networking has shaped Katrina Louis’ professional path. When I met her during a recent mixer, she seemed confident, easy to talk to and made us feel as she truly listened. Even as she carried herself with the confidence of someone who has been working many years in public relations, I discovered later she had recently graduated from the University of Florida (Go Gators!).
Katrina graduated just as recession started in 2008. With no job in line she delved into what she knows best: not for profit organizations. She had volunteered with Keep America Beautiful, the Amateur Athletic Union, the YMCA and at her school, she got involved with the National Association of Black Journalists and the Association of Black Alumni at UF.
It is through volunteering where she was able to find a job opportunity and since then, Katrina has mixed her love for community work with career. Up until earlier this year she was the Multimedia Specialist at the Children’s Services Council in Broward County (Florida), an organization established by voters that funds over 100 family programs. When she decided it was time to move up, she quickly found an opportunity as Communications Manager in Charlotte Works in North Carolina, an agency dedicated to give resources to job seekers.
As a young professional who has moved in diverse circles, I figured she could have some useful advice for navigating the networking scene. In our conversation I learned not only how networks can help build a career but also help make a difference.
Why did you pick public relations?
I have always loved to write and read. In high school I wanted to be journalist print major. I did an internship at the (Miami) Herald and I realized it was not for me. I did like the writing aspect, talking to people, and I was like, what is something similar? I found public relations. I did not know that it was a major. I did not know it was an area to get into.
What did you not like about journalism?
I did not interact with people as much as I like to. (In PR) its not always about I am trying to get the story, its more about building the relationship.
What do you think not for profit organizations need in terms of communications?
From within the organizations, making sure everybody in the organization is speaking the same language, that you have the same message. Everybody works in different department but to the community you all represent one organization. After that I think is definitely awareness, you got to be visible. People got to know who you are and recognize what you (do). Most of the time you are working with a small amount of resources. A lot of people don’t put communications as top priority when you have to prioritize resources so sometimes you just have to get creative with the way that you do it.
Do you have any example of something were you had to be creative in order to make it successful?
One of the most recent (examples) was at the Children Services Council especially because we were not a not profit; we were more government than not for profit. For us, a really big undertake right before I left is (when we were voted as) a ballot initiative. We had to be voted by local voters during some election to continue to exist. CSC has been created in 2000 and at that point it was 2014 and there were people who had still had no idea who the organization was. Because we could not say vote for us, we had to educate the public about our services. We had to come up with ways for everybody, for the entire community to see that if we went away, how would they be impacted because we operate with a 6 million dollar budget and that it s a lot of money to go away. It was not like somebody else was going to get it, it was just gone.
I maintained our website, I maintained our social media, I did newsletters. A lot of the communications came from me. I was making sure that when our partners in the community did an event or had a program or something like that, (they’d let) people know ‘you are funded by Children’s Services Council.’ On social media ‘make sure you tag us’ or ‘share what we are doing.’ It was not us being selfish, it was more like ‘hey you already know about these great things that are happening, but make the connection (that) this is the organization providing it to these agencies.’
In terms of building relationships, what are some of the tips or advice you have for others?
I would not call myself an expert but I would say some things that have worked.
1) Find venues and events to connect with people
I think it’s really a great way to just network in general whether it be in professional organization like PRSA or whether it be like a civic engagement or community one… You meet interesting people where you may completely know them from one thing like we went to college (together) but I did not know that you own your own business. I can be a customer. You never know. For me it’s about talking to everybody pretty much.
2) Make yourself memorable (be yourself)
I’ve been told that I am charismatic and I would take that as a compliment (laughs) I try to be genuine in my conversations. I don’t talk to people to see what they can do for me. That’s helped me a lot. People remember if maybe we just started talking something that sparked out of a compliment. I really like shoes and purses and things like that, so I may say ‘I really like your shoes. Where do you get them from?.’ You start a conversation and then it turns into something else. When you don’t go in automatically saying what can I get out of this person I think it gives the opportunity to make that relationship building process a lot easier because it comes from a sincere place.
3) Find benefits for both sides
I would definitely say that the relationship should be mutually beneficial … If you are looking for a job, the whole conversation should not be about how can you get me a job. What can you offered that person when after that conversation ends, I want to talk to you again.
4) Talk slow
I think when we talk to people we talk so fast and we give so much information that is really overwhelming. Everybody is busy so if you are talking trying to tell me every single thing that you do, talking at a mile a minute, is just a lot to digest. Start with something specific, have your conversation and kind of let it flow.
5) Find ways to connect after conversation
When ending the conversation, if you have not already established a way of connecting with each other. Find that way to connect with each other moving forward whether ‘let’s exchange phone numbers’ or ‘lets connect in LinkedIn.’ Just offer having that way of how can we continue this conversation.
Those are things that at least worked for me and I’ve done pretty well about building my network. You may go in with one intention like I really want to collaborate on a project together or work on something together and you may end up like BFFs, you don’t know (laughs). You start talking to people, spending time with people, you start seeing things you have in common, you start to genuinely like people. I think that is the goal. To genuinely like the people because when opportunities or things come across you want to be that perfect person I’m thinking of, like, ‘ok, this opportunity does not fit me but I know the person who you may like.’
In terms of what you learned in school and what you have learned in the workplace. How different is it, or is different at all?
I do believe I got a really good education, it gave me a really good foundation but I think experiences like the work experiences that I’ve had has been what benefitted me the most. Just being around the peers who are on the industry whether it’s at the conferences or workshops and things like that because that is where you get to share what’s working and what’s not working. It may be something you were thinking about doing and then you hear somebody else’s experience, then you may go back and change your mind about something. You save yourself time because you talk to someone who has already been through the experience.
Do you have a particular example of how the work you have done has impacted a person?
Once upon a time there was a group called the Association of Black Alumni which is an affiliate group of UF alumni. They had a chapter (locally) and I’m like ‘what happened, this would be so great.’ You have a commonality with a bunch of alumni who might have shared a lot of the same experiences you did during college.
They did not have (the chapter) and I’m the type of person where if I don’t see the opportunity there I’ll make it. Basically I helped restart the chapter in South Florida. Since my thing is community outreach I (also) really wanted to do something for high school students who are transitioning to UF because I know for me that was a big thing. (Before school)I’ve never been to Gainesville, I’ve never lived away from home and I’m going to this college. That college experience I’ve never really had that in my family…I helped restart the chapter but I also helped restart the scholarship that was given on behalf of the chapter
That was in 2011. (Earlier this year) the (South Florida chapter of the UF Association of Black Alumni) board did a networking event and they were recognizing black alumni in South Florida. I actually received the Young Alumni Gator Great award because it was recognized how big deal it was that I restarted the chapter, what I have been able to accomplish. We’ve been able to give a scholarship to a student graduated from a South Florida high school going to UF, making sure there is that pipeline of support for these students so they have somebody who has been there done that, who they reach out to. It’s just very humbling to see because I did not go into it saying ‘I want to be a big deal.’ I really did go into it because I was like ‘I know my experience going to college’…You want to fall in a network, you want to be part of a network.
Follow the author on Twitter at @yadicarocaro