Hello, Working Girl: Laura Cardon of Great Outdoors Colorado
Meet Laura Cardon, PR gal behind Great Outdoors Colorado! I'm happy to share that Laura is one of my first friends in my new city, and needless to say, she's talented and great! Read on to learn more about Laura's unique journey through not one, but two niche sects of public relations, as well as what it takes to succeed and stand out in the industry.
Q: What is your background in PR and communications, and tell us a bit about your experience working in a niche sect of communications with Great Outdoors Colorado!
A: I majored in public relations in college, but by the time I graduated, I wasn’t so sure I actually wanted to work in the field – or in an office, for that matter. It wasn’t until a few years after graduating (and working in a barn full of horses) that I made the decision to re-enter the “normal” working world and find an area of PR that worked for me. Not surprisingly, my first stop was only one small step out of the barn. I took a job with an agency that exclusively served the equestrian world – an even smaller niche than the one I currently occupy at Great Outdoors Colorado! Horses have been a lifelong love of mine, and I turned to the non-profit world because I wanted to work somewhere that I was equally excited about the organization’s mission. It’s been really energizing working in an environment where I can see the positive impact of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) each day. One of the reasons I originally shied away from working in PR was a less than pleasant meeting with a female C-suite executive at an agency in DC. She scoffed at my desire to work in the non-profit sector (at the time, I was interning at the Humane Society of the United States) because I wouldn’t make much money. For her, that made the endeavor completely pointless. She wasn’t entirely wrong. There’s no debating that you will make less money working for a non-profit organization, but I’ve found that the joy I get out of furthering a good cause makes it all worth it.
Q: What is your day-to-day like on the job?
A: There are a few core activities that I spend time on each day – social media and signs. Yes, signs. GOCO asks each of its grantees to post signs noting GOCO’s financial investment at the project site. This is easier said than done with thousands of grantees to account for in all corners of the state! One of my long-term projects is making sure all of our grantees (past and present) have our updated signage with the correct logo and messaging. Beyond that, my day is a little less predictable. I attend events on behalf of GOCO (grand openings of grantee projects are my favorite!), work on press releases and promotional materials, and anything else that may get thrown my way.
Q: In your opinion, what are the three necessary skills needed to excel in your field?
A: Flexibility, excellent time management, and the ability to take initiative are absolutely essential. In the non-profit world, communications departments are often small. You will be asked (and expected) to do a variety of tasks and do them well. There isn’t one person dedicated to social media strategy or one person dedicated to media relations. It’s just you – and hopefully one or two other people. You need to be flexible and be willing to do anything that’s asked of you, and you need to be able to manage your time effectively and stay organized to make sure you’re getting everything done. Taking initiative takes on a different definition in the non-profit world. Yes, always offer to help out, reach out to mentors, etc., but in such a niche sector of PR, you have to make a deliberate effort to stay plugged in to the PR industry as a whole. The budget to attend pricey conferences and workshops can be limited or non-existent, so it’s really up to you to make the effort to stay connected. I’ve taken advantage of the multitude of free webinars and online resources (blogs, articles, etc.) to help keep my skills sharp. I wouldn’t be featured on That Working Girl in the first place if I hadn’t made a conscious effort to connect with others in the industry (thanks, Lindsay!).
Q: How do you maintain a functioning work-life balance during the week, and how do you organize your priorities throughout the week? How do you reward yourself after a long day in the office?
A: I only joined GOCO in August, and at my previous job, I worked remotely and had extremely flexible hours. It’s been a huge adjustment, but the upside of a 9-5 is that I can truly unplug from work once I’m home. I’ve set that boundary – for example, I don’t have my work email on my phone – but I’m also fortunate to work for an organization that really values having that line drawn. GOCO wants me to have a life. That being said, my work-life balance is still a work in progress! The list of things I want to fit in each day (or week) seems to be endless, and that’s not even counting the boring stuff like cleaning my apartment and going grocery shopping. I’m still attempting to get myself into a routine, but I try to prioritize the basics that keep me sane. It’s important to pick a few “must haves” that you really commit to making happen each week. For me, it’s a mix of fun and practical tasks – exercising in some form, spending time with my boyfriend, and things like having a (moderately) clean apartment and making grocery store runs. I have a tendency to guilt trip myself if I’m not doing something productive over the weekend or in the evenings, but it’s easy to overwhelm yourself that way. It’s okay to say no sometimes. You certainly shouldn’t come home from work every day and binge watch The Good Wife in your yoga pants, but doing it every once in a while doesn’t hurt either!
Q: Where do you see your career in the future, and how do you plan to work your way there?
A: I’ve never been one for five year plans. I’ve yet to ever actually make a five year plan, and I’m thrilled with how things have unfolded for me. My career in PR certainly hasn’t followed the most predictable path, considering it almost never started to begin with! I tend to formulate smaller, more short-term goals. For example, I’m working on re-learning Spanish. I took six years of it in high school and college, but have managed to forget most of what I learned. Being bilingual is a really valuable skill, and it’s something I’m chipping away at to continue developing professionally. I am really happy where I am, so right now I’m focused on continuing to build trust and establish myself in my new role by doing great work and building relationships. Honestly, I think that’s 99% of getting where you want to be.