PR Pros: Duyen Truong of Sage Communications On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful…

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PR Pros: Duyen Truong of Sage Communications On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro

Listen first before talking. Ask questions and actively listen to not only the words spoken but the intention behind them. You may find that non-verbal communications give away more about what someone wants to communicate. For example, if a client is being critical about what may seem to be a small item, it may be their way of saying they have bigger concerns.

Have you seen the show Flack? Ever think of pursuing a real-life career in PR? What does it take to succeed in PR? What are the different forms of Public Relations? Do you have to have a college degree in PR? How can you create a highly lucrative career in PR? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” we are talking to successful publicists and Public Relations pros, who can share stories and insights from their experiences.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Duyen “Jen” Truong.

Duyen “Jen” Truong is senior vice president of PR Operations at Sage Communications, one of the leading integrated marketing communications agencies in the Greater Washington D.C. area. A perennial optimist and strategic communications expert, she collaborates with technology, government and non-profit clients on awareness, reputation management and thought leadership campaigns that deliver measurable results. She was recognized among PR News’ 2019 Top Women in PR, and her work has received accolades such as the PRSA Anvil Awards, IABC Silver Inkwell Awards, and American Marketing Association “M” Awards.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I took the non-traditional path to high-tech and public sector PR. Growing up, I always dreamed of being a scientist or engineer. I started as a chemical engineering major at the University of Texas at Austin. A personal health issue prompted me to reconsider what I really wanted to do in my career. I wasn’t enjoying my classes, but I was loving my extracurricular activities with the Texas Union Council where I was planning fundraisers and organizing community events. A fellow council member turned me to PR. It’s the best decision I ever made because at Sage, I’m intellectually challenged every day, and I get to indulge my insatiable curiosity about science and culture.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

My 16-year career at Sage is peppered by so many first moments that it’s hard to pinpoint just one interesting story. However, one of the most interesting occurred in November 2021 where we supported the Halifax International Security Forum (a client for the last six years), which brings together 300+ dignitaries, senior government officials, luminaries and military leaders from over 80 democratic countries around the world to discuss and debate common goals and shared challenges. We secured 1.1 billion online impressions and 100+ pieces of coverage in outlets such as CBS, PBS NewsHour, Politico, AP and Fox News. It was exhilarating to be at the center of such strategic, geopolitical collaborations about civil rights, security, women’s rights, and climate change — issues shaping the future of our world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve certainly made mistakes over my career (who hasn’t?). The “funniest” one — though not so funny then — has to be when I was at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in Austin, TX. I interned there and was offered a full-time position upon graduation. We were pitching reporters for an upcoming product announcement. It was approaching end of day, and I called this veteran tech reporter at the Boston Globe. He laid into me for calling him at 6 pm his time. I failed to make the time zone conversion. I felt so bad, making such a rookie mistake. When I shared the story with a seasoned colleague, they assured me that the reporter had a reputation for being a curmudgeon so I shouldn’t sweat it. I learned then that developing a thick skin would be necessary for PR and that taking a few punches was part of learning.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

What many folks outside the industry don’t know is that there’s so much diversity in government and technology. Some of the most interesting clients I’m working on right now include companies in space computing, air travel intelligence, experience management, and anti-fraud security. I’m also really enjoying working with the USDA on the Census of Agricultural campaign that targets farmers, ranchers and producers. Did you know that the Ag Census is conducted every five years and informs a whole host of decisions from disaster relief funding to farm operations? I find it incredibly fascinating!

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

These three character traits have been central to my progress to date:

  • Grit is the internal motivation to succeed. It is one of the most telling traits of what a person has done and can do because it’s independent of talent and intelligence. As an immigrant from Vietnam, my parents were early role models in showing me that despite obstacles such as racism, poverty and language barriers, hard work, focus and perseverance has its rewards. That internal drive to succeed is what keeps me going during tough times like when I had a bout with cancer or balancing work/life priorities.
  • Curiosity is an acknowledgement of what you know and don’t know and taking action to close that gap. Asking questions and having an open mindset allows you to grow and connect with others in a meaningful way. It’s integral in our line of work when we’re developing campaigns to connect with publics whether they are K-12 students, Medicare beneficiaries, teachers, small businesses or farmers.
  • Collaboration is about co-creation. It’s what working in an agency is all about. We’re stronger together. I started my career in-house at a global company and loved it. However, at an agency like Sage, the level of collaboration is tenfold. We work in teams and there’s opportunities to collaborate with other teams and anyone else across the company. This leads to better ideas!

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you help articulate what the different forms of PR are?

Great question because people think PR is just all about crisis management because of shows like Scandal or Flack. It’s so much more. There are various forms of PR such as community relations, internal communications, investor relations, analyst relations, partner relations, and public affairs. Each form focuses on different audiences requires different strategies such as thought leadership, media relations, social media engagement, speaking, awards, etc.

For example, the primary audience for internal communications is employees and you will collaborate with HR and management to pursue strategies that focus on recruitment and retention and advancing the employee experience. Common channels can include intranets, newsletters, executive communications and town halls to maintain open, transparent communications and build trust with employees.

Where should a young person considering a career in PR start their education? Should they get a degree in communications? A degree in journalism? Can you explain what you mean?

I would highly recommend pursuing a bachelor’s degree in PR or anything communications or journalism related, depending on the university. Many PR programs offer concentrations or are multi-discipline and offer exposure to journalism, which is fantastic, because writing is a much sought after skill. We’ve also seen history, English or even psychology majors do well in PR. What is equally important is practical, hands-on experience through an internship.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

Networking is a big part of what we do as PR professionals. Never go into a networking event blind. Do your homework, bring business cards and wear comfortable shoes. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself that you take the enjoyment out of it. The whole purpose of networking is to build relationships. I start with grabbing a drink (even it’s just water), walking around to see who is approachable, and then striking up a conversation by asking questions to learn more about others. It’s a success if you’re able to walk away from an event having engaged in a few authentic, engaging conversations vs exchanging 20 business cards and leaving with no sense of connection.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

It’s all about nurturing relationships and building trust with people in your network. Support others when you can, whether that’s spreading the word about something they’re proud of or helping to connect them to someone who can help. Keep in touch with folks when they move around and you never know when there’s an opportunity to work together.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Listen first before talking. Ask questions and actively listen to not only the words spoken but the intention behind them. You may find that non-verbal communications give away more about what someone wants to communicate. For example, if a client is being critical about what may seem to be a small item, it may be their way of saying they have bigger concerns.
  2. Connection leads to empathy. Learn about people’s concerns, goals, interests and hopes. Use this foundational knowledge to form your strategies so that it’s rooted in what matters to them.
  3. Embrace the uncomfortable. It’s the hardest things we do that force us to grow. PR was not a natural field for me as a born introvert, but it’s forced me to grow and connect and now I can say I’m more of ambivert, straddling the intro/extravert line. For example, most of us are not born public speakers. Seek out opportunities where you can to practice speaking — whether that’s with Toastmasters or your church — to speak in front of small groups.
  4. When chaos reigns, the person with the cool head has the best answers. Maintaining a calm temperament affords you a clear-eyed view of the situation and what needs to be done. My role as a fair and level-headed mediator started early as the eldest of seven kids and the family translator for non-English speaking parents who immigrated from Vietnam.
  5. Always be learning. The central premise of PR is building mutually beneficial relationships based on trust and understanding. To do so, PR professionals need to stay on top of trends and issues, what target audiences care about, who they trust, what channels they use, among other things. This means that we have to be constantly learning so we can adapt and stay relevant.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Universal access to education which can open doors to opportunities, bring people together and foster innovation to solve many of the world’s pressing problems.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

PR Pros: Duyen Truong of Sage Communications On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.