As part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Public Relations Society of Kenya, Nelson Opany features career stories of three young public relations and communications management professionals, focusing on how they started (then) and how they’re fairing (now). Janet Kiriswo’s interview is the second in this three-part series dubbed “The Communicator”.
Tell me a bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you do professionally?
Janet Jebet Kiriswo is my name. I grew up in a beautiful town of Eldama Ravine, in Kamelilo Village. My upbringing is a mixture of urban and rural cultures which influenced my education and social life – and it’s a beautiful blend. I have always been active and bubbly all my life which eased me to my profession.
I’m a jack of all trades. I studied Mass Communication at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC) after high school. In the course of it I completed three internships – first at Kenya News Agency (KNA), then at a vernacular station Kass FM International, in Baringo County and thirdly at Around The Globe (ATG) Radio where I was retained and grew in rank to an Assistant Manager. During that period, I joined Moi University to advance my communication career by pursuing a Bachelor`s Degree in Communication and Public Relations as a part time student.
When and how did you first find yourself in the PR/Communication industry?
After working for a while in the media I felt I had the skills I needed to succeed as a public relations practitioner. Having studied journalism at KIMC, it was also possible to get credit transfers into a public relations course at the university which made it easy to join the degree programme in second year. That’s how I was able to make the switch, got what I wanted and even more.
Was that your training background or you trained for something different? If not, how did you make the switch?
My background was mass communication, where PR and communication skills were part of the units I took, so it was not much of a switch but rather a continuation to sharpen the skills I had already acquired. Of great interest to me were sign language, gender and communication, and advocacy amongst the more than forty units I took.
What were your typical tasks?
With my foundation in mass communication, a very dynamic field, the tasks related to consulting, marketing, advocacy, creatively analyzing markets and responding to changing priorities.
How did a typical day look like for you?
My days were hectic. Working in the fast-paced media industry and having to balance with school and no off days was very challenging. My previous employer was keener on work with very little rest to a point I figured out I needed to take care of my well-being more.
How easy or difficult was it to execute your role as a young professional with little or no experience at all?
I am lucky I was never short of ideas or skills to keep me engaged right from the time I left KIMC. I never felt I was a young professional, because of the passion I had armed myself with. This field is easy to maneuver, it only depends a lot on how one perceives and rids themselves of self-doubt.
What are the lessons you picked from that experience that shaped how you do things today?
What I learned greatly when I would review my day’s performances is to be a good listener. You also need to keep your mood high, smile on, and always have a notebook with you. When the going gets tough, put everything down, ask your clients for time, revise your discussions, and respond soonest but when you have thoroughly researched and have different strategies to win them over. No is never an answer, you just need to be determined to find a solution.
What were the greatest challenges and how did you overcome them?
My former boss did not like the truth, but it is the only way to make business work. Unexpected things may sometimes happen, but the most important thing is to make sure they don’t happen again. Dealing with such untruthful people can be difficult.
Fast forward to today. How many years has it been and what has been most outstanding in your career so far?
It has been ten years and I take pride in the outcomes of my work. I am glad whenever I got an opportunity anywhere, I made impact, influenced change, and created a unique for myself. I have met many PR professionals with different tales – inspiring and some challenging – but it is uplifting to know how amazingly they performed in huge organizations. I have also had the opportunity to interact with clients from across the globe making me to really love what I do.
Has your role evolved, or it has remained the same? If so, what is different now?
It has evolved – it does all the time. Strategies change, nothing is static. You just have to be updated, alert and flexible to swing with the different trends in these amazing field. Remember the world is competitive, so you always need to ask yourself if you are competing or running your own race.
Have you changed jobs/employer or you’re still at the same place. What made you change or stay?
I have changed jobs severally for the major reason that change is inevitable. I rose through the ranks in my first job and felt like I needed a new challenge as there was no more room for growth. Thanks to COVID-19 I landed other roles in in which I would work daytime for one job, evening for another, overnight for a different one and weekends for some. I like challenges and strongly believe there is always something bigger out there for me.
What is the one thing you love about your job as a PR/Communication work?
My clients’ satisfaction, approval, and recommendations and when they sign a long-term contract basing their trust in me. That makes my day opens even bigger doors for my career. I landed my current job through client recommendation and the aggressive online marketing I put out.
Where do you draw your motivation to rejuvenate yourself from the pressures of work?
My Family is everything to me. A phone call home is always uplifting and as satisfying. I couldn`t ask for more. My close circle of friends and mentors who are always ready with their wisdom, and fellow PR experts always give me the moral boost as we engage in new experiences also push me ahead. I write for an online blog, run my YouTube channels, and currently writing a book. I miss swimming pools, but I developed a morning physical exercise routine to keep me fit and sane. I enjoy listening to African music in the evenings and savor every moment I get a visit from a Kenyan.
What would be your advice to young PR/Communications professionals who are just starting off like you did years ago? What do they need to know/do to succeed in the profession?
The will to pursue PR/Communications is enough evidence that you know what you are getting yourself into and nothing should stand in your way to making the best out of it. You’re entering an enjoyable field; your brain and emotional intelligence should be on check. Your work entails planning success for your clients, socializing, and making people happy for the fat cheque. Keep in mind that it is your image you’re offering them, you should be looking amazing for the clients to want you portrayed with them. Be very ready to give all it takes to achieve the best. Always wear an inviting, homely, business face, the smile and eye contact with a firm grip hello will say a lot about you even before you speak.
Understand that you cannot please every client, but you sure can leave an impact that will make them want to come back. Be open to consulting your mentors, colleagues, friends in profession and your teachers whenever you need to have some clearance. Clients may not always be regular, but ensure you have a plan to have them even at irregular seasons. Practice too makes perfect.
What is your take on the IPRAC Bill being fronted by the Public Relations Society of Kenya? Is it a good or bad thing/ How will it impact the profession?
It is high time we stand recognized; we play key roles in building linkages between organizations and their clients. It is a serious filed that needs professionals and not just charismatic speakers. It is a good thing because it will ensure greater recognition and serious job opportunities for genuine PR practitioners. We will no longer be taken for granted.
In your opinion, what does the future of PR/Communications look like in Kenya and globally over the coming 10 years?
Depending on how you play it, it is either dealing with the truth to sort an issue or dodging the truth to sort an issue. The future is awesome, maybe we should have more discussions on why not marry advertising and marketing with PR.