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Kathryn Holmes Johnson: Publicist for Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox in Washington, DC

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After eloping on her fourth date with her husband and trying her hand at sky diving, it seems that there is nothing Kathryn Holmes Johnson can't do!

Johnson has known since her freshman year in high school that she wanted to go into communications and marketing. "I have always enjoyed writing, public speaking, and working with people to organize events and projects," she said.
A graduate of Howard University, Johnson said that her education gave her a great foundation in the history of media and an understanding of how the "news cycle" works. "My life and work experiences have given me perspective on how images and messages are received by different people. This context allows me to be thoughtful and strategic in my approach to how I craft and implement a PR endeavor," said Johnson.

Now she is the publicist for Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox, an intellectual property law firm based in Washington, DC, and has an interesting story to tell about how she found the job.

"Amazingly, I had been out of the job market for 10 years because I was in a job that I loved," said
Johnson. "It came time to move on, and I logged on to This position was the first job I applied for, and they called two days later to schedule an interview. I went back for a second interview, and they offered the job. I had another interview lined up but cancelled it and took the job because I knew it was a great opportunity and the right fit for me."

Johnson said that one of the best things about public relations is the relatively immediate gratification for your work. "Once you have planned and implemented an effort or campaign, you can see the results of your work as you garner placements in the media. It is so cool to pick up a paper or to turn on the television and see your story in print or on the air. These results also make the people you work to get coverage for very happy," said Johnson.

On the flipside, any time you work with people, it can pose a challenge. "As in every profession, some people are not always on the ball. When you work with a reporter on a story and provide detailed information on the story topic and your source, it is frustrating if the resulting placement has a misquote or if the attribution is wrong or left out altogether," said Johnson. "I try to overcome this by establishing a good rapport based on mutual respect. I can usually get a reporter to review story content with me prior to it running. That is always ideal."

According to Johnson, doing PR work for attorneys provides its own set of challenges. "They are extremely busy, and you have to have a compelling reason to pull them away from the work they are doing for clients. We manage this by identifying a broad range of media placement opportunities from simply being quoted in an important news story as an 'expert' source to placing bylined articles in trade publications and legal journals," said Johnson.

"Our firm is co-counsel on its first Supreme Court case. It was very moving to be on the steps of the Supreme Court to conduct a press briefing after our team came out from presenting their oral arguments. We are awaiting the decision on the case, and the media, legal, and corporate interest is very intense, as the case is one of the most important patent cases the court has heard in 40 years."

How I Got a Job
"My first job was at C-SPAN, where I was a marketing intern and got hired as a production assistant. I got the internship by referral from the Howard University School of Communications placement office. Every job since then, except the one I have now, was the direct result of networking to get my foot in the door or having strong references from those in my network. I landed my current job because I had a strong portfolio and experience based on all of my prior positions. I will also note that it has been 20 years since I worked at C-SPAN, but I still have opportunities come to me by way of people I have kept in touch with from my time there so long ago."

Johnson admits to being a bit overwhelmed by the amount of media in our world today. "I am dating myself here, but when I first came into the field, the major outlets where you strived to get placements were the broadcast networks and top-market newspapers. Now you have cable news and specialty networks, websites, blogs, etc. You have to be realistic and strategic about where to focus your energy and effort to make a splash in the media marketplace today," said Johnson.

"As an individual, the opportunity to network has been a key to having fellow PR professionals to bounce ideas off of or to get advice. It is also important to network in order to build a good 'Rolodex.' This has been important for knowing 'go-to' people for needs you encounter, from needing a good photographer or caterer to having good media contacts or a vendor that will assemble gift packages on less than 24 hours' notice. As far as the larger PR community, it is essential to continue to offer educational and skill-development opportunities as media continues to evolve and to establish the standards by which we practice our profession."

When asked if there was anything she would have done differently in her life and career, Johnson said she would have made different choices about her lifestyle so that she would have more personal flexibility with her family.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I love to spend time with my husband (of 15 years) and our girls. Our most recent adventure was sledding a few weeks ago.
Q. What CD was most recently in your CD player?
A. Corinne Bailey Rae.
Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. O.
Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. Not a show—I am a QVC addict!
Q. Who is your role model?
A. My parents. They were married just shy of 50 years when my Dad died of lung cancer in May 2006.

"For example, it would have been ideal for me to work part-time after I had my children. I find that achieving balance is continually challenging, but I am blessed to have a husband who is truly my partner. We do a pretty good job of having a terrific quality of life for our family," said Johnson.

"I am always telling people that I am 'old school.' I say this because I mimic how my parents raised me and my siblings. I try to stay focused on my family and don't get caught up in all of the extra trappings that many people feel are important. We don't have cable or PDAs. My kids aren't in leagues or lessons. We don't do things that take us away from our home in the evenings or weekends. Our lifestyle is very basic. We spend as much time as we can together as a family, including sitting down to dinner every night and having story time. This keeps us grounded and ready to face the work world during the week."

Her advice for anyone interested in a career in public relations? "Be creative, professional, and fearless! If you do your homework, come up with a good pitch, and make the call, the worst response you can get is generally "no." Keeping that in mind, put your reservations and fear aside and go for it!" said Johnson.

On the net:Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox


Corinne Bailey Rae

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