Shalom Gichuki, Corporate Communications at Public Image Africa, is our comms spotlight this week. A lifelong learner, Shalom’s media expertise has led her take important roles in Diplomacy, Radio, and Corporate Kenya. She is professionally trained by the Media Council of Kenya on The Journalistic Code of conduct, The Kenya Film Classification Board on Content regulation, Glassdoor PR on Public Relations, East Africa Institute of Professional Counseling on Counseling Psychology and holds a Bachelors in Journalism and Mass Communication from The Technical University of Mombasa.
In our interview with her Shalom shares her journey into communications and the important lessons she has learnt.
How did you begin your journey and career in Communications?
I studied Journalism and Mass Communication at University so I thought I’d end up in a newsroom somewhere. However, in my last year of school with all the practical aspects of the course, I knew deep down that wasn’t the path for me. Funny that I graduated summa cum laude and top of my class because it showed that maybe I was good at the journalism stuff but my heart wasn’t there.
As my classmates sought internships and opportunities in the media, I chose the creative route of creating content and photography as I was trying to find what I was meant to do. I also volunteered with Young Diplomats of Kenya and Africa Youth for Sustainable Development goals. All the exposure my work got from social media actually landed me a job as a digital content writer for a Communications firm in Nairobi, then I joined a studio as a Communications liaison and I loved it!
I joined Public Image Africa as a Communications Assistant where I learned so much in a short period of time, then the position of Corporate Communications Manager opened up and I got it. It was tough at the beginning as I was a bit young and I was thrust into the deep end but I managed to find my balance. I’m grateful for how far I’ve come to be the person I am today.
Can you take us through what you do within your role as the Corporate Communications Manager at Public Image Africa Inc?
I am the official liaison of the company so communication has to pass through me from both internal and external stakeholders. I also spearhead strategic communication processes for organizational growth which involve internal employee communication, crisis management, customer service, public relations, media relations, content management, drafting proposals and reports, collaboration with other departments, photography, and overall brand representation and ambassadorship. I also work closely with the C-suite to ensure that company communication flows smoothly.
What are some of the deliberate steps you took to develop yourself in your career?
I am a life-long learner so I’m always in pursuit of information that grows me whether it’s from other professionals, blogs, apps, or learning platforms. My favorite quick learning app is Pinterest because you can get communication nuggets arranged in an easy-to-understand format so if I need to consult something and I don’t have time to research, I just check it on Pinterest. LinkedIn has also proven so beneficial as people share their different experiences from their careers and I learn from them.
Before Covid-19, I attended a lot of networking events and I really miss exchanging notes with other careerists over a cup of coffee and gleaning wisdom from each other. I’ve taken several short Coursera courses on communication and I’m always on the lookout for emerging trends and practices so I can catch up. I listen to podcasts as I work and my favorite one is Communication Strategy that works by Emma Drake. I’m working towards enrolling for the CIPR certification as I believe that’s one thing that sets communication professionals apart.
Can you share one major challenge you have faced in your career so far and how you overcame it?
I think my biggest challenge has been navigating the COVID-19 environment especially when it began. As the official liaison, I had to figure out how to communicate from a trauma-informed perspective because we were all going through it and it was definitely affecting our performance. It took a lot of learning how to extend care, compassion, kindness, and grace to everyone through my messaging.
I’m glad I’ve grown so much and built a lot of resilience from this experience and it has made me a better communicator. This period has taught me that the effectiveness of a message is in HOW you say it and looking at your audience as people with feelings, thoughts, opinions, worries, etc. – they’re not just consumers, data, or your means to an end.
What are some of the key lessons you have learnt from your professional journey so far?
My biggest takeaway is that there is always a solution and you need to look for it in yourself because you’re smart enough. If you don’t find it, ask and keep asking for help! There’s no shame in admitting that you really don’t know because the other people around you might know.
Also, relationship building becomes so much easier when you’re genuinely interested in what people have to say or what they’re about. At the end of the day, all human beings want is to feel accepted and if you can make your clients and colleagues feel that way then you won’t struggle building relationships. If it’s okay, ask about how they’re doing, their mental health, their families, and anything else that concerns them.
Stay authentic! Building your personal and professional brand isn’t about trying to fit into a narrative but building the reality you want for yourself. Stay true to who you really are. When I was just starting out, someone told me that I needed to behave a certain way or be something I was not to make it in the industry but over time I grew tired of it because I only know how to be myself and it’s served me so well.
Forgive yourself when you make mistakes and seek to always learn from them. When in the presence of people you look up to, listen more than you speak and give value to them as well. Finally, you really are capable enough if you’ve come this far. If not you, then who? (As cliché as that sounds). You have it in you to do so much more than you think is possible!
The best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a mentor in the industry?
The skills may get you the job but it’s the Emotional Intelligence that will keep you there and open more doors. Build your emotional intelligence because our emotions control our decisions, behavior, and performance. Once you understand that, you unlock the key to understanding people and why they respond in different ways.
Our different communication styles (Analytical, Functional, Intuitive, and Personal) are all informed by the science of emotions. Crack that and you crack the code!
Work on Self-awareness, your awareness of others, staying authentic, and using emotions to help you analyze, reason, and make decisions – that’s what Emotional Intelligence is about.