Some might fear change. But not Tiffin Jernstedt. She embraces it wholeheartedly.
Tiffin is a 20-year communications veteran who serves as the chief communications officer at Neiman Marcus Group, a luxury retailer home to iconic brands such as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Her role broadly encompasses a variety of internal and external communications, including public relations, employer branding, executive communications, thought leadership, partnership and programs, events, and crisis communications.
Based on a conversation with Tiffin, she offers five tips to emerging communications leaders to get out of their comfort zones.
- Think broad
Long gone are the days of siloed communications teams. Tiffin is focused on hiring teams that can bring a wide variety of skills to the table. Leaders need to diversify their skills to develop content and tell stories. She encourages leaders to develop a deep understanding of their audience.
She shares, “I think it’s important to understand all your stakeholder groups because, at the end of the day, 90% of it is the same content. It’s just that extra 10%that needs to be tailored.”
- Know your platforms inside and out
Tiffin is always surprised at how many external communicators aren’t familiar with internal platforms and vice versa. This is a huge miss; regardless of your role, she encourages communicators to understand all the platforms available to the broader team and the content shared through them. Understanding the communications channels is a great way to repurpose valuable stories both internally and externally.
She also feels strongly about visual communication skills. She explains, “I think every communicator needs to learn how to be a visual communicator.” Go one step further and understand the best way to incorporate visual components into your platforms; having some design experience allows you to create complementary visuals, like photos, graphics and infographics, which have never been more popular than now.
- Embrace new challenges
When considering her career trajectory, Tiffin thinks about the challenges she took which helped her broaden her skills. She has a fearless mindset: “If you’re not learning something new, you’re getting stuck.”
She recommends that communicators consider where they want their careers to grow. For example, Tiffin suggests, “If you want to be the vice president, then what vice president work are you being challenged by? What type of responsibilities are you not doing?” Identify these responsibilities and then seek them out. Too often, people become comfortable, but growth comes from continuous learning and saying “yes” to that scary but exciting opportunity.
Tiffin encourages communicators to find organizations that embrace transformation, where communications roles will be most exciting.
- Appreciate the unexpected
Tiffin loves communications because of its incredible diversity. Witnessing it evolve over the years, she observes, “Communications is such a broad industry. Communicators benefit from a highly creative and collaborative career path that offers a huge range of responsibilities that apply to every industry.”
Even the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to many companies didn’t deter Tiffin; her all-remote team has risen to new opportunities it uncovered. She encourages her colleagues to “think about what they need to do differently given the reality of their remote team.”
One solution? Her team worked together to create a strategy for its own team communications, embracing on-the-phone walking meetings, group texts, and regular touchpoints to stay in touch about key projects.
- Create connections, no matter how awkward
Tiffin is a passionate networker. When the pandemic started, Tiffin knew she needed to find a way to stay in touch with her network once the pandemic paused in-person events. She founded “Talk Shop,” a series of virtual networking events to connect communications pros from various industries to collaborate and discuss the latest trends.
Her best networking tip? “Just do it,” she says. “It is a challenge. But, you have to network for career success. Making those important connections is all about the effort you make.” Actively seek out opportunities to meet new people, both in-person and online. And follow up afterward on LinkedIn or via email to solidify that new connection.
Tiffin challenges you to expand your network; connect and follow along with her communications advice and insights on LinkedIn.
Christina Witczak is a recent graduate of the Professional Communications program at DePaul University and works as an internal communications manager. She is based in Chicago.
Jillian Kobow is a recent graduate of the master’s in Professional Communication program at DePaul University and works in higher education. As a current Chicagoan, she teaches Pilates part-time and explores the city through its food scene.