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Dickinson College Alumnus and CEO Discusses Tips on How to Succeed in the World of Communications

Petetaft73

Photo courtesy of Taft Communications.

Alumnus draws from experiences in news reporting, magazine writing, business communications to share tips, advice

by David Blosser '19

As students ventured into Stafford Auditorium, Pete Taft ’73 began his discussion as he would any business meeting. After walking around the room and introducing himself, Taft repeated the names of all 20 people in attendance. “The number one rule of communications: A person’s name is the sweetest thing they can hear,” said Taft. 

From working as a news reporter, magazine editor, communications consultant and, most recently, CEO and founder of Taft Communications, the entrepreneur has advised more than 200 organizations—from Fortune 500 firms to political campaigns—on the art and science of persuasive oral and written communications. Whether one is looking to pursue a career in newswriting, editing, camerawork, production, photography or filming (among numerous other careers), there is sure to be a job in this field that makes anyone’s heart sing. 

“Dickinson alumni who have built successful, fulfilling careers are the very best guides for Dickinson students who aim to do the same,” said Associate Provost and Executive Director of the Center for Advising, Internships & Lifelong Career Development Damon Yarnell. “Our alumni know firsthand how to articulate the value of their educations to the wider world, how to translate the Dickinson experience into language that professionals in their field will recognize and how well Dickinson prepared them to work in their chosen area.”

At his communications firm, Taft works with clients in industries including health and life sciences, education and public policy, energy and the environment and transportation and technology. “No matter what industry you’re working in, before you put pen to paper, you need think about the ABCs of effective communication,” said Taft. “Audience, Brevity, Clarity and Structure are all vital when it comes to knowing your consumer, communicating briefly, articulating a message concisely and doing so in a structured and organized way.”

To succeed in this field, Taft encourages aspiring communications experts to remember the following 10 tips:  

  1. Do what you love (but make sure you’re good at it). 
  2. Love where you work (but get ready for your next move). 
  3. Start small (but think big).
  4. Scare yourself every now and then.
  5. “No problem” are the two most important words in the English language.
  6. Learn how to think, write and edit—but summarize and synthesize too. 
  7. All communication is music.
  8. Everybody spins.
  9. Fail (it’s how you learn). 
  10. You will always have work.

The talk resonated with many students in the room. After college, Marshall Edwards ’22 (undecided) plans to work in the entertainment industry, both shooting and editing films. “I felt that Taft’s ‘ABCs’ is a useful tool for communicating effectively but also an important strategy to remember during job interviews or whenever you're meeting a new person,” he said. 

The conversation also prompted students to see the many career opportunities available under the umbrella of communications. “I never realized just how broad the communications field really is,” said Sarah Scheinman ’19 (political science), who hopes to combine her love for marketing and social media in a nonprofit setting. “The importance of getting to know your clients on an individual basis is an insight that I will take with me as I enter this field one day,” she said. 

Taft’s campus visit is just one of the many opportunities that the Center for Advising, Internships & Lifelong Career Development has planned for students to network with industry experts. “An essential part of our strategy in the new center is to develop enhanced opportunities for students to engage with alumni, and we have a number of projects in motion to get us where we need to go,” said Yarnell. “When the students who met Pete have gone on to achieve success and fulfillment, they’ll have the chance to return the favor by inspiring the next generation of Dickinsonians.” 

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Published March 21, 2019