Let’s make one thing clear – tofu by itself is not tasty. It’s one of those foods that requires a milieu of other ingredients, spices, and sauces to give it flavor and make it worthy of eating. Tofu molds to whatever is added to it, culminating in a nutritionally fulfilling food that has taken on the embodiment of an assigned flavor.

In this sense, working in the field of communications is the tofu of careers. Communications specialists are blank canvases, ready to be molded by whatever the issue area du jour is. We come into our roles with fundamental communications skills in place, (à la the tofu protein base), by being talented writers, able to address a PR crisis, push a given narrative, or direct a policy conversation with a unique voice that ultimately leads to the desired PR outcome.

The Complimenting Ingredients: Issue Areas

The most exciting and fulfilling part of being a communications specialist, (PR associate, account executive, whatever the pertinent title may be), is the wide variety of exposure you get to an assortment of issue areas. In my short yet robust career, I have crafted communications for political candidates, a sitting U.S. Senator, and have worked on everything from defense, health care, infrastructure and aviation policy to message-crafting for foundations, nonprofits, organizations and major Fortune 500 companies.

What was the one common thread in this range of roles? Being able to adapt and craft messages for a narrow, particular issue area. Often times, this career will require that you dive into policy areas that you have little to no knowledge on, or didn’t even know existed in the first place. This requires getting into the weeds on a number of different fronts.

How does one adapt to these different issue areas?

Two words: deep dive. Make no mistake, you’ll have to do your homework if you want a career in communications (unless of course you’re just a master of a vast range of policy issues, in which case, run for office, please). A good place to start is by looking into previous stories on the issue area you’re working with. Analyze what the tone in the media landscape is like, and assess whether or not keeping that tone or diverting from it is necessary to achieve your overall PR goal.

After you’ve got a sense of how the media has been covering the area you’re working on, get into the meat of the issue (antithetical to the tofu comparison, I know). White papers, in one manner or another, have been written on every angle of almost every policy area out there. Those will always be a good place to start. Look for objective, methodically-researched reports (usually issued by a government organization or nonpartisan think tank, NGO, etc.), and comb through the issue meticulously, all the while keeping in mind how you can leverage the information you’re gathering for different communications angles.

Is there a glaring aspect of your issue area that needs a light shone on it? Are there particular holes that people on the opposite side of your issue could find and exploit? It’s easy to get caught up when doing your research, but always try to keep a messaging angle in the back of your mind when doing so.

How Do I Know What Communications Role to Apply for Without Prior Issue Area Experience?

Apply for everything. Go into your communications job search with the mindset that you can hit the ground running day one to learn everything you possibly can about the assigned issue area. Nothing is off the table, and the old “nothing ventured nothing gained” saying is very applicable to this career field.

I once interviewed for press position with the National Farmers Union. Have I ever been a farmer? No. Can I come into a new position and use my communications skills as a foundation to grow and learn in a new issue area? Absolutely. In that particular case, learning as much as I can about agriculture, crop subsidies, U.S. farmers’ exports, and more would all be the ingredients, sauces and spices to my communications background tofu that would contribute to a healthy and fulfilling meal (career).

Looking for communications specialists trained to up your brand and push your issues to the front lines? At The Moak Group, it’s what we do.

Noah Walker