Certificate in Public Relations – A Student Perspective
John Williams is a
1993 graduate of the Certificate in Public Relations, and president of Scoville
Public Relations, which focuses on alternative energy and technology start-ups.
In this interview, Williams discusses how this certificate led to him finding
his calling and how it still shapes his career today.
Tell us about your
educational and professional background
I received a bachelor’s in American studies from Hamilton
College in 1990 and moved here to Seattle in 1991. I got a job working for a
company in the HR department, writing the employee newsletter and other
communications. Although I was the only one with anything close to an English
degree in the department, I figured I should get more proper training in
Why did you choose
this program in particular?
Pat Fearey, CEO of the Fearey Group, suggested I sign up for
the PR certificate. When I walked out of that first class, I knew this is what
I wanted to do with the rest of my career. I was so thrilled to have found my
Tell me a little
about your classmates. Do you keep in touch with former classmates or
It was quite a mixed group of people, including some journalists.
By the time I left the program, I already had connections with several local
reporters and several peers with whom I still remain in touch with today. One
professor, Jim MacFarland, was a real mentor for me. We are friends and
colleagues. We’ve collaborated on projects, and I’ve actually been able to hire
him for projects.
How did this experience affect your work? What lessons stuck with you?
The PR teachers were sticklers for
fundamentals, little things like having the correct dateline on a press
release, which cities need the state listed after it and which didn’t. They
really drilled the basics. With many candidates I interview the basics just
aren’t there. They instilled in us how to do things the right way, but also the
way to do it right; you don’t lie, you don’t obfuscate. It may seem idealistic
to some, but these were leaders in the field who believed this, and it is still
something I believe in in my work today, that consistent grounding in the right
way of doing things.
Tell us how the certificate has helped guide your career.
After nearly 15 years of running PR and marketing for companies
like Flexcar, (now called Zipcar) and at agencies, I could see that Seattle’s
PR industry was transitioning in the early 2000’s. Several large firms bought
out the smaller to mid-size boutique firms, and there were dozens of independent
PR professionals who were happy with only handling 1 or 2 clients. I saw a gap
that needed filling. Seattle is not a major hub of multi-national firms, it’s
mostly smaller tech start-ups. Having worked with many of the smaller tech
companies, I knew they needed a firm that could handle the volatility
associated with early stage company. In
2004 I started Scoville with a focus on start-up and mid-market companies. Today, we are delivering on that vision with
just 4 employees with some interns and overflow help. We represent some of the nation’s most
promising and innovative clean technology and renewable energy companies. I
love being in on the early stages of game changer companies. It’s my sweet
spot, it’s more fun.
What advice would you
give to someone interested in taking this certificate?
PR is hard work. It can be fun, but it’s also hard work.
It’s more like sales than most people think -- it takes confidence, the ability
to handle rejection, to follow up an email with a phone call and hear “thanks
but no thanks,” on a good day. But if you don’t believe in the work you’re
doing, it’s even harder. I’ve found life is too short to not be doing something
you don’t believe in.