By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

Surprise, Delight and Other Surefire PR Secrets That Work

  • Even during an unprecedented time like the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s possible to leverage your connections to open up exciting new career opportunities.
  • It’s never too late to change course, whether that means pursuing a totally different major in college or bravely stepping out to take a job in a new city. The trick is to stop settling.
  • Kat Child, account coordinator for Marshall Communications, says: “In your personal life, having that appetite for reading or listening to podcasts or going to museums — things seemingly unrelated to work — can evoke an inspirational mindset that can really help you in your work.”

Kat Child never expected to work in PR. In fact, her childhood dreams were much more oriented to exploring the undersea world than they were to publicizing the happenings of life on land. As a child, she planned to be a marine biologist — an ambition she pursued through her first year of college.

What changed?

“I realized marine biology is a lot more than turtles and wildlife — I knew I wanted to do something creative,” Kat says on episode 98 of The PR Maven® Podcast.

Kat’s desire for creative pursuits led her to explore the graduate journalism program at her alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill. Most recently, a door opened right here at where Kat now works as an account coordinator. In an episode of the podcast, she shared her journey as well as her biggest lessons for winning PR.

Embrace opportunities to stray from the original plan

Surprise, Delight and Other Surefire PR Secrets That Work You’ve already heard about Kat’s first experience deviating from the path: Her transition from marine biology to communications in college. But she’s gotten comfortable making these kinds of pivots in her life post-grad too.

After college, Kat left North Carolina — where she’d always envisioned staying — for Boston, where she had been offered a job at an agency. Three years later, she moved again to join the team at Marshall Communications in Portland, Maine.

While Kat was excited about making a career change, the decision to move again was not an easy one. “It seemed so formidable to move, to be able to get a job that I liked in Maine because of the fact that all of my connections, my professional network, [were] in North Carolina and Boston,” she says.

This lesson in embracing the formidable has also applied to her work. As part of the Marshall team, she works with CruiseMaine, a business that has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. But Kat has learned to adapt and build a new plan, focusing her PR efforts for this client on making connections with local businesses. “It speaks to the power of what we can do when we take a different approach,” she notes.

Connections rule

Kat may not be the first one to suggest that it’s all about who you know, but she will gladly hit the retweet button on the oft-repeated saying.

Even if a new job doesn’t seem to be at stake when you make a new connection, it’s worth exploring the relationship, anyway. There’s always an opportunity to learn from that relationship in the short-term — and a job opening could always come up later on. When Kat first connected with the team at Marshall Communications, for example, there were no positions up for grabs. She had an informational interview… and the rest is history.

“When I was connected to [Marshall Communications] I thought, Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think anything will come of this, but it’ll be a wonderful way to get to know someone. Then it ended up being a career opportunity,” she says. “You just never know. And that’s the truth.”

Getting hired at Marshall Communications was even more of a surprise given the timing of Kat’s initial outreach during COVID-19. Her interview took place via Zoom. While she thought she might be more laidback interviewing remotely from home, Kat actually found herself “obsessive about how the environment looked and the lighting and everything.”

It all must have looked pretty good — she got the job!

Stop the scroll by using surprise and delight

Like most of us, Kat is all too familiar with the endless scroll of social media. In order to break through that scroll and help her clients gain attention among media and consumers, she prioritizes two concepts: surprise and delight.

“Being able to evoke that kind of response in people is something I try to keep in mind, whether it’s a full blog post or social post — something that will stop someone scrolling and evoke a pleasant response,” she says.

And the surprise doesn’t have to be anything crazy!

On the contrary, Kat is a big believer in the power of simplicity. “I learned just how short people’s attention spans are and it’s really important to engage them and keep the message simple so the message actually comes across.”

You can never be too curious

Curiosity is another key element to Kat’s approach to PR.

“I think, in your personal life, having that appetite for reading or listening to podcasts or going to museums — things seemingly unrelated to work — can evoke an inspirational mindset that can really help you in your work,” she says. “It’s very easy for me to get into my habits and routines. And I love my habits and routines! But there is a benefit to changing things up and seeking out new opportunities. It can impact your work in a positive way.”

Kat has followed her own curiosity to many of Maine’s local museums and to books, podcasts and other media that help her fire up her creativity. Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” is a personal favorite.

‘Good enough’ doesn’t have to be the standard

Whether you work in PR or bring your expertise to another field, Kat is here to remind you that there’s no need to settle in your professional life. Her own career path from aspiring marine biologist to public relations success is proof that satisfaction on the job is always worth a few extra twists and turns.

“You should not feel the need to stay in one career path just because you’re not completely miserable,” she says. “You don’t have to keep doing the same things if your heart is telling you you’re interested in other areas or other places.”

Kat recalls thinking that her first job in Boston was a “pretty good fit” that she should just accept… but knows in hindsight that seeking out something that would light her up was the right choice. “I believe it is possible to be passionate about your work and where you live.”


This is based on episode 98 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

  • Irene Abdou says:

    This is such a difficult time for everyone, so your article is much appreciated in the new COVID world. I like your “stop the scroll” advice. Here’s to heading to my blog for a next post that I need to stop the scroll on!