My Career Choice: Julie Murphy – Sage Communications

Public Relations professionals wear many hats. Julie Murphy has enough to fill up a generous sized coat rack. She leads Sage Communications’ Public Relations Division, directing the strategic design and execution of compelling awareness programs for a diverse set of business, government and technology clients. A sampling of Julie’s current clients includes Amazon Web Services, Hitachi, Brocade & Dell. An experienced speaker and mentor, she has shared insight, best practices and how-to presentations based on her work with Fortune 500 companies at the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Conference, various PR Conferences, IABC events, Women in Technology panels, and many universities as a guest lecturer.

Julie’s previous experience includes serving as director of the government technology practice at Merritt Group, a high-tech public relations firm, and working in Hill & Knowlton’s London international headquarters where she served the Kellogg’s and Johnson & Johnson accounts.

In addition to Julie’s experience implementing messaging and positioning strategies, she has also executed successful media, customer and award programs for many B2B, information technology and security clients.

She is currently a member of Public Relations Society of America and is on the Women in Technology board. She graduated Cum Laude from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I’ve always loved advertising and its creativity in helping companies tell their stories. While public relations as an industry has existed for decades, it really started growing exponentially in the 1990s when I was in college, particularly with the technology boom. I loved that public relations, like advertising, told stories. While studying journalism in college, I learned that I loved how news coverage had an additional benefit of building companies’ credibility. Anyone can buy advertising space, but only the experts get quoted in articles and speak at conferences. And people love to buy from experts.

What about this career choice did you find most appealing? 
I’m lucky enough work with some very smart clients. They’ve founded companies and invented innovative products. However, if no one has ever heard of them or if they can’t articulate the value proposition, their growth can only get so far.

I love it when a client that has an amazing product or methodology comes to us for public relations support. They usually have volumes of information about their offering, but often fail in packaging it in a way that will get their future customers excited. We develop compelling language around their offering and then we figure out the best channels to tell the world. When clients start seeing their name in the news and fielding inbound requests they get so excited, and a happy client never gets old.

What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I studied journalism at Syracuse University, which provided a great education in the news, public relations and advertising industries.  Syracuse’s Newhouse school also has an extensive network of alumni willing to help each other. Through that network I started being selected for internships early in my college career, as well as participated in student and public relations organizations.

Once I landed in an agency, I had the privilege of working with a wide range of clients and industries, from emerging start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. The greatest leaps I’ve taken in my knowledge and career have always started with watching and learning from mentors surrounding me in this environment. I still participate in many industry organizations for continued professional development such as Women in Technology and attend public relations conferences as often as I’m able. Our industry is undergoing a huge transformation with the adoption of social media and digital channels and it’s very important to stay one step ahead.

Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
Ninety-nine percent of the people I’ve worked with, as colleagues or clients, have been highly encouraging. We’ve created a culture here at Sage that really values teamwork and collaboration, and I try to ‘pay it forward’ as much as I can, as I’m so grateful for the mentoring I received early in my career. As for the one percent of people that were more challenging, I’ve discovered that I’ve really learned the most about myself and grown in confidence from those experiences.  So I would keep them, too, if given the choice.

Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
I experienced some health problems early in my career that I thought would launch me into a wellness-related career, such as a yoga studio owner. I even dabbled in doing public relations for a medical spa. However, I’ve learned that my true career passion and calling is still in public relations, particularly in an agency environment for technology and government businesses. I’ve learned that having hobbies that are completely unrelated to your career makes for a healthy mind, and I still love yoga and keeping abreast of wellness news.

When did your career reach a tipping point?
In 2006, almost a year into my position with Sage, I was offered to join the partnership by the founding owners. Like many people who start their careers in an agency environment, I had assumed that I would learn as much as I could in an agency and then jump ship to an in-house role at a corporation. However, the partnership gave me an opportunity to build a public relations practice and make the agency world my home base. I absolutely love it – I get to surround myself with some of the best in the business, while working every day with many different companies of all of shapes and sizes. There’s never a dull moment in the agency world, and I’m glad that I embraced this career path.

Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
I was over a decade into my career when I became a mother. I was accustomed to attending early-morning business seminars and evening networking events, often several times a week, which has always been a critical component to building my professional network.  Like many working mothers, I pride myself on learning how to be the ultimate multi-tasker. I’ve learned how to be very discerning about each time-commitment I make, be it a networking dinner or a mother’s day tea.  And I’ve learned that best way to overcome the challenges of being a working mother is to remember it’s not the time you spend in either environment, it’s the energy that you bring and the outcome as a result.

What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Observation, which is a silent skill and often overlooked. In the client services business, observing client tone and behavior during a meeting immediately conveys the health of the relationship and the approval level of our work. Observation can also help to uncover how our client’s message is resonating with a reporter during a media interview. And it can tell me, as a manager, if one of my employees needs some extra guidance. Powers of observation are critical in all forms of business interactions. Knowledge is powerful, and it can only be gleaned by paying attention, not by forcing an agenda.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
When I took a leap of faith to join Sage Communications, I already had a great job as a director at a well-established agency. I had a team of people reporting to me, and I had the flexibility and resources to build terrific campaigns. When I joined Sage to build out the public relations division, in many ways it felt like I was starting over as a one-woman operation, especially the first year. Eleven years later we have a list of blue-chip clients and a team of 30 people representing our public relations division. Building this team, with the help of my colleagues through the years, has been incredibly rewarding.

Any advice for others entering your profession?
Do everything you can to get into an agency. It can take you only six months in an agency to learn what you may glean over several years inside another organization. The reason being is that you are surrounded by other mentors and public relations professionals, coupled with working with every type of client and personality. Simply because of the exposure, the learning curve starts to close very quickly.

Secondly, if you find yourself lucky enough to be inside an agency that values upward mobility and promoting from the inside, stay put and don’t accept lateral moves just because the grass seems greener.  Agencies reward loyalty, and five years from now you’ll be head and shoulders above your peers.