Alumni: Anthony Surratt
With the benefit of more than 20 years of professional experience behind me, I can say emphatically the classes I took at Anderson prepared me well for my career. The communications courses were a great combination of theory, strategy, and hands-on, practical training. Because class sizes are smaller at AU, you not only get to know your professors well, you bond with fellow students and form an informal support system over the semesters. In fact, I still have fond flashbacks of late nights cranking out issues of the Andersonian with many of those classmates, and the hours we spent debating commas, semi-colons, and the policies and people we were reporting about.
In communications, education is only part of the preparation for a career. You have to have hands-on experience outside the classroom. I was fortunate my professors made it clear internships were critical. With their prodding, I became a bit obsessed with finding internships, especially my first one, at a small weekly newspaper the summer following my freshman year. I also did two other newspaper internships, freelance work throughout college, and a PR internship at St. John's Hospital in Anderson. I had always planned to be a newspaper reporter, but I loved the Saint John's internship so much it steered me toward a career in public relations. In my first job search, I walked in to interviews with a thick portfolio of practical work, thanks to those internships and three years on the Andersonian staff.
I am now vice president of corporate communications at Time Warner Cable. We are the nation's second-largest cable TV, broadband, and phone provider, with about 14 million customers and 48,000 employees. I work at corporate headquarters in New York. I oversee employee communications, corporate philanthropy, social responsibility, executive communications, and issues management. The heightened passion consumers have about their communications services can be double-edged from a PR standpoint, but one thing is certain: it's not boring. There is tremendous opportunity and need for strategic communications in this business, even more so today with social media having altered every aspect of how organizations communicate with their customers, employees, communities, lawmakers, and influencers.
I oversee a team of 12 people. Fortunately, communications is a field where you're never too far removed from the actual work — which means I don't just manage others, I still get to write and produce "stuff." I don't think I'd be satisfied in my career if I didn't. Of course, it's a balancing act, and it has been a good challenge for me to learn delegation and management skills.
What would I say to AU students considering a career in communications today? It's a great field, and AU will prepare you well for it — assuming you also take individual responsibility for the preparation. Even with dramatic changes in the media, I believe there is still a lot of opportunity across the journalism and communications spectrum, even though it bears little resemblance to the landscape when I graduated in 1989. In PR specifically, there are numerous career paths to choose, and jump around among, during your career — including work at nonprofits, agencies, government, and corporations.
As you're preparing for your career, I strongly recommend taking every communications and business class you can manage. And don't just go to class. Get out and apply what you're learning. Find internships. Volunteer at organizations that need communications help. Work on the newspaper. Blog, Tweet — whatever you can do to get practical experience. And on top of that: Read, question everything, be creative, and keep an open mind. You probably won't end up tomorrow where you think you will today, but it will be a great journey.
BA 1989, Anderson University
Communication Arts major (public relations and journalism)
Vice president of corporate communications at Time Warner Cable