Jennifer Phan, APR, on Transcendent Stories

November 2, 2018

Name: Jennifer Phan, APR

Current Status: Communications coordinator, Shive-Hattery

Current location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Career highlights: Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance Leadership for Five Seasons Program Graduate. APR — hooray! Chair for the Love Jordyn Love Life cancer fundraiser.

Favorite downtime activity: Spending time with family and friends, reading and baking

Any four dinner guests: My dad, my grandfathers and Mr. Rogers

Favorite news sources: Reddit. Google News. BBC News.

Best career advice: Change is inevitable. Either you can be part of the change and help drive it or you can let the change happen to you.

You work in corporate communications at an architectural and engineering firm. How do you find human angles for storytelling in such a technical business?

The built space is envisioned, designed and constructed by people. When it is completed, there is an impact on the people in and around it. The human element is inherently built into the architectural and engineering world. From that perspective, there is always a story to tell.

You can tell the story from the eyes of the client who had a dream, the designer who wanted to create something beautiful yet functional, or the person who is in the space and is learning, healing, building — the list goes on. We can never underestimate how many lives we touch.

What is the key to getting colleagues to share their own stories?

I am my colleagues’ No. 1 fan. In this industry, I am constantly learning and that thirst for knowledge is endless. I’m fortunate that they are ready and willing to teach me what they know.

The newness and shine of what my colleagues do will always be brilliant. I see what they do on a day-to-day basis with a fresh set of eyes. They are passionate about what they do, and they’re good at it. I have the easy part. I ask questions and genuinely listen. Then, I get to share how wonderful they are.

What does it take to capture the attention of both clients and employees with the same message?

Internal and external audiences can be told the same story but with different perspectives so you can curate an experience that is most relevant to them.

In my field, external audiences include clients, stakeholders, tenants, owners and end users. Internal audiences include the design team, company leadership and employees. 

To capture the attention of both, the story has to include a message about what is important to them and that sweet spot is achieving or surpassing the design goal. That means the client’s vision was realized and the employees designed a project that made that happen. Some projects can take several years from design to construction, and that means we are all in it together. A job well done is something both clients and employees can feel good about.

Your own story is fascinating, growing up in a culturally homogeneous Illinois neighborhood with Vietnamese refugees as parents. How did that time in your life shape who you are and how you work today?

When I look back at that time, diversity was not a concern. If you can look at people for who they are and what their individual stories are, you will find that diversity comes in all shapes and sizes, and that should be honored.

My parents did an amazing job providing an experience that focused on overcoming adversity. All walks of life have encountered that. With my parents, I have witnessed and continue to be an active participant in the American Dream. For my parents, a formal education would never be a part of their reality, but it could be for their children. They sacrificed everything for us to have that chance.

Education would open up doors. Tenacity would see those opportunities through. My job was to make it happen. Failure was never an option because all I had to do was keep working. That’s what I did and that’s what I do to this day.
I am proud to be the first in our family to acquire a (self-funded) college education. My parents have witnessed all of their children successfully graduate college. In less than one generation, my parents have completely changed the trajectory for our family. The possibilities are endless.

I am a lifelong learner and will continue to believe a better future is possible. Sure, there’s luck and chance but you can always improve the odds in your favor by putting in the hard work. I accept that life will present challenges, but have faith. Ask for help. Believe in yourself. Lean on your friends and family.

How does this impact my work? I always say yes because there’s always a way to get the job done.

Your recently received your APR. Why did you decide to pursue Accreditation with PRSA?

The APR process itself helped to strengthen my strategic planning abilities and critical thinking. Earning my APR improves my credibility and reputation while adding value to my career and organization.

You serve as a liaison for the PRSSA Chapter at the University of Northern Iowa. What do you see in the next generation of PR professionals?

Agile, innovative and responsive. Thanks to our mobile devices, stories go viral and the amount of information that is shared continues to grow exponentially. PR professionals must be quick learners and become the jack of all trades. There is absolutely no time to waste in the competition of “who will be first” to get the information out as accurately and quickly as possible.

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of Strategies & Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994.



Johnny Boyd says:

Great article!! Jenny is a great advocate for all us at Shive-Hattery. She brings energy and professionalism to all that she does. Jenny inspires us to build on our personal and company brands through story telling and social media outreach. Jenny is true difference maker.

Nov. 8, 2018

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