This is the Start Here Never Stop podcast with Dean Susan King of the UNC School of Media and Journalism.
00:00:14 Dean Susan King: Hello, this is Susan King, the Dean of the School of Media and Journalism here at UNC-Chapel Hill. And very glad to welcome Lisa Ramsey Arney to our podcast this week. Welcome.
00:00:24 Lisa Arney: Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.
00:00:27 King: We're excited to have you and rather than start right off at, you know, your fabulous job right now at the iconic Walt Disney World, and it's any word with Disney, any job with Disney, and it is fantastic. I really wanted to go back to your time here at school. You graduated in 2003 as one of our prestigious Park Fellows. Congratulations on that.
00:00:48 Arney: Thank you. It's a great program.
00:00:50 King: And you've got a master's degree in communication, but with an emphasis on broadcast. And it was at that time when we started to know that our whole media world was changing. So what drew you to the idea of a master's degree?
00:01:03 Arney: So it's a great question. So I actually went to undergrad at the University of Georgia with a broadcast news degree. And I wanted to be the next John Stossel. I really loved the reporting that was done back in the '90s – '80s and '90s – that was more consumer-type reporting. That program has changed quite a bit. They don't do as much of the consumer stuff anymore. But that's what I wanted to do. And so I worked in local TV news markets for about four or five years, and covered, you know, everything from city council meetings to, you know, crime, and just, you know, trying to make the news of the world relevant to the local audience. But it wasn't really my cup of tea. I mean, the thing about being in local TV news is that you're only as good as your last newscast. So you couldn't really work toward any big projects until you got to be a field producer or in a network job. And for me, that road was long. So I wanted to kind of bridge out of journalism and try to make that jump into public relations. So I ended up applying for graduate school because I only knew how to write for a teleprompter. So I really needed to get some foundational training and writing – writing AP style, writing press releases, communications plans and everything like that. So I was so fortunate to be accepted into the program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and so packed up and moved up there. And it was a great blend because at the time I was actually – part of the Park program is that you work as a graduate assistant. And so I helped out with Carolina Week and helped the kids there kind of understand what it's like working in the real TV markets and what they would be expecting when they graduated. So it was a great bridge, and the school was wonderful and being able to kind of help me move from, you know, traditional media to being more on influencing and shaping the stories that are coming out of the media.
00:03:00 King: That's such a good description. And so I always call that kind of a move that you had a pivot point. You knew you wanted to move on to something else. So then education – and really at a post-grad level – gives you a strategic and visionary kind of position on yourself and the world, doesn't it?
00:03:17 Arney: Definitely. Yeah, and I think I know some students choose to go straight from undergraduate into graduate programs. For me, it was so important that I had those several years working as a TV news journalist, because I was able to see, first of all, just what that job was like and determined that that wasn't going to bring me the joy that I needed out of a professional job. But it also was so important in helping me with my public relations studies, and then ultimately, every job I've had since, you know. So it was really good to have that real world experience, then go back to grad school and kind of fill in the gap.
00:03:56 King: And did you understand at that time that the business was about to completely change? Newspapers were starting to feel the advertising change and television still was a little bit on the high. But did you have a sense that it was all about to really be revolutionized?
00:04:11 Arney: I don't know. Gosh, I don't know if anybody really could have ever imagined that our news would be delivered in so many different forms as it is today. So I definitely didn't call that one. But I did see how our online presence was changing at the TV station. So this would have been 2000-2001 when I left there before I came up to North Carolina. And yeah, we started to have to turn news for our website. And it was kind of like, "Well, we've got a newscast at 6 o'clock. Well, we'll have it ready then." And then it was, "No, no, like, we need to get that story out before the 6 o'clock news. And we need to have you write this." So it was starting to change, and people were getting jobs as web producers. That was a brand new function that wasn't around when I was in school, undergrad. So yeah, it was hinting on it, and then I got out of that field, you know, went into school and started to kind of get my foundational learning on PR. But yeah, it was just on the cusp when I was leaving TV.
00:05:11 King: And so talk a little bit about when you left here. How would a graduate degree help you get into – you went to SAS, as I understand it, pretty much right away, which is another iconic brand, at least in the Research Triangle Area.
00:05:25 Arney: Yeah, absolutely. OK, so the story on this is that when – you know my husband – but at the time, my boyfriend at the time and I relocated from Jacksonville, Florida, up to the Chapel Hill area. We actually decided to live in the town of Cary, because we thought it would be closer to where he would get a job. We thought, "Oh, you know, he'll probably get a job in Raleigh. So let's live in Cary, and I'll just commute to Chapel Hill for school." And ironically, he ended up getting a job in Durham, so it didn't help us at all, but, you know, best laid plans. And so I had my Fridays off the way that my grad school schedule was. I had my classes Monday through Thursday. And I was used to working five days a week. So I was thinking I need to find something for my Fridays. I can't just have Fridays off. And I learned about this company, SAS, that was in the same town that I was living. So it was basically saving me a commute day. That was really my main reason to go SAS. I didn't know anything about SAS.
00:06:20 King: Lucky, aren't you?
00:06:23 Arney: Right? And there was another grad student student who was in the master's program and a year ahead of me who was interning at SAS. I mentioned I was looking for something and I lived in Cary, and he said, "You should come out to have lunch with me." And so I did. And you know anybody who's worked in a TV newsroom setting can relate to having kind of a bare bones work environment. You know, I mean, it's everything you see. You still have a beautiful set, but then the rest of this facility is not, you know. It's a working newsroom. And then I go to SAS, and it is essentially a Google-like campus over and on the East Coast. And I was like, "I don't know what they do here, but I should work here." So no, but it was really fortunate because the woman who ended up hiring me was also a UNC-Chapel Hill journalism grad – Kim Darnofall – who went through the master's program as well. And she knew that the J-school, as we called it, was very strong with its writing courses. And we needed, you know, at SAS, they needed people who could write stories for the Internet, and write, you know, ghost write for executives and that kind of thing. So because I had that, you know, good training through the J-school and she was familiar with the program, it just kind of came together. It really was meant to be.
00:07:40 King: Well, we like to say that Tar Heel network is important, and you just made that point.
00:07:44 Arney: Absolutely. And I continued to bias when I was hiring interns at SAS. I would always love to talk to the UNC students and probably gave them preferential treatment, but don't tell anyone.
00:07:57 King: Well, let's talk about how in the time since you graduated, which is now in 2003 and we're in 2018. So who can believe 15 years, right? This strategic communications, PR, branding, advertising, all those are now all melded together. And they have changed a lot with just the presence and the power of social media. So what have you seen? What is the big, you know, sort of movement that you've seen since you studied it and now you're really practicing it every day?
00:08:25 Arney: Yeah. I mean, I think I could say that there's some things that have stayed the same and there's some things that have changed. I would say the things that have changed are the vehicles. It's the way that we share information, you know. When I first heard about Twitter, I just scratched my head like, "What an incredible waste of time. Who cares what you're doing on a minute-by-minute basis? This is so going to blow over." So it's a good thing I was not like a tech investor because I wouldn't have done well. So those channels though, I mean, those channels have evolved and changed and have become so pervasive in everything we do. And we can talk about that in a minute how it pertains to work now, but what has not changed, and where I feel like the training that I received at UNC and the training that I received at University of Georgia, is the storytelling, you know. And this has been, you know, since the beginning of mankind. People tell stories. That's how you relate to people is through their stories, their individual stories, you know. And so I think what we've learned how to do and evolve is how we take a good story. And we amplify it through a variety of channels. And a good story will get shared and picked up and tagged and commented on and become a trending topic. It's told well, so the core content is and always will be about the people and their stories.
00:09:48 King: Can you give us an example of something that you worked on that just had that essence of the story? And so maybe you took a complicated idea and went, "Wow, it connected?"
00:09:58 Arney: Yeah, I mean, I can tell you one we just on the Walt Disney World in the community Facebook page, which I encourage you to check out. It's a story about a hearing impaired dancer who lost her hearing at age – gosh, I think she was like a toddler after she contracted meningitis, and she grew up dancing and learning how to feel the music to the vibrations, and move her body, you know, in accordance with that. And she always aspired to be on a stage in front of many, many people. And she had a supportive family and supportive dance teachers. And she now is on the stage at the "Beauty and the Beast" show at Disney's Hollywood Studios. And she is such an amazing spirit. She's a person who just accepts that this is her. I don't even want to call it a limitation, but this is her situation. And the people around her help her when she didn't quite catch something. And it's become such a bonding experience for her and her fellow cast members that it has made her endeared to the company and to her job. So the story that we posted last week a couple weeks ago, has hit – gosh, it's already reached over, 300,000 people have viewed the story. And it has been shared and commented and people are saying things like, "Oh, I saw this show. I remember this person." Some of the people commenting worked with her. Other people have deaf family members. One woman commented that she has a little girl who would love to be able to be a dancer and to see this gives her hope for her and it gives me chills. It really does because you find the person. You got to use your journalistic instinct to find those stories. There's some work to that. But when you find that story, and you find somebody who's a great emotional, you know, interview, and you can package it together with great visuals and sound, I mean, it sells itself. It really does.
00:12:00 King: And what it also sells for you and the big picture is the inspirational, which is somewhat the essence of the Disney storytelling, right, that sort of sense that people will experience that wonder and inspiration.
00:12:13 Arney: Yeah, I mean, it's funny in the story, she actually says at the end that she really feels like dreams can come true. And she laughs and says, "Oh, it's so cheesy." But, I mean, and I talked about this and say that what better way to tell your company story than through its employees. And if your employees saying dreams come true on the job and the way that you brand yourself as a company is dreams come true, like it all works together.
00:12:40 King: That's fantastic. So I do want to ask you one question. It's a technical question for all those students of PR. Internal communications is not something a lot of people think about, and you've become, you've had a specialty. You did that at SAS in some ways, and you're doing it now. What does that mean? Where you also have to worry about the employees, that internal audience, and why are they key really to a brand?
00:13:01 Arney: Oh, wow, that's another great question. And I would also tell you that at SAS, we were two separate teams. We had our PR external team, and we also had our internal comms team. And I was on the internal comms team at SAS for 13 years. And then when I had this opportunity to come to Disney, what they liked about my background is that I had worked in television, I had worked in the media, I had worked in internal communications. And I'd also been for a short time, I managed media relations for a hospital, like in between grad school and getting out of TV. So I had kind of both sides of the news desk, as well as the internal piece. And at Disney, we really approach all of our communications as being one message, you know. What we're saying externally, we're saying internally, and that's so important. And when you talked about social media, that's a big part of it, because people can share information so easily through social media. If we're not consistent with our messaging, then we can be tripped up by that. So it's just important that we have a very planned full approach to communication. And so what I would say to people is, on the aspect of considering internal comms versus the maybe, you know, more glorified look at PR, which is working with the media, is that if you can harness the power of the stories of the employees in your company, you can as effectively market, promote and emphasize that brand, through employees as advertising or placing media stories. I mean, it has the same effect, if not more, because it's so authentic. These people are already bought into the company. You're not trying to really convince them – they believe in it. And they can speak to the power of that brand so effectively and so authentically.
00:14:45 King: And they become big extenders of your brand then too.
00:14:49 Arney: Absolutely, absolutely.
00:14:51 King: So the last question is some people are going to say, "Is it worth it going on all the work to begin to get a master's degree?" It can be stopping your career. Even if you're doing a pivot point, but stopping, spending two years after you've been out of the workplace, doing the GRE, you know, etc., etc. What would you say is the importance, particularly a time when everything's changing so much? So, you know, change probably the two years, you're here. Why is it worth it?
00:15:16 Arney: Well, and it was hard for me. I worked full time. I started working when I was 15. And worked and worked, you know, through college. And so to stop working after I had been in the working world for three – I guess it was four plus years, to go back to grad school was a big change for me. I mean, it was not only not having that salary, although I had a wonderful stipends. I was grateful for that. But just that whole change was something I had to really consider. But the reason why I felt like it was beneficial – and I think that it has proven to be – is that I had a need for a specific component of my education that I was lacking. And I really felt like I needed some foundational learning. I needed the strategy and the theory and all the things that go behind what it means to be a PR professional, that I only knew from dealing with PR people when I was trying to get a comment for a story. So I didn't really know the intention that goes behind what PR professionals do, and going to school helped me to see that from a very strategic, you know, researched thought out way. Do you see what I mean? So I felt like I could be a better PR person because, not only had I worked with PR people, but I actually understood the technique and the reasoning for why we do the job the way we do it. So I would just caution people who are just wanting to be like, you know, life-long learners in the terms of just going back to school, and go back to school. Ask yourself, "What's the purpose? What are you trying to accomplish?" If it's just getting that on your resume, that doesn't necessarily land you a job. You know, you got to be able to show that that complements your other experience, your initial education and your passion. You know, it has to all come together. So I do think that's an important thing for kids or students to consider is, what is the real intention of going back to school? And is it going to accomplish what you need?
00:17:11 King: And I think in this more complicated world, having a strategic vision, as well as having skills and experience, but having a sense of being able to reinvent, to look around corners, because we don't always know the answers to things right away, being able to problem solve, and it really, in a big picture way, is really essential if you want to be a leader in our industry.
00:17:34 Arney: Yeah, absolutely. And I love that part of going to school means looking at best case scenarios, companies that have done it well and companies that have failed because you have to learn from the failures too. And I think that's just not something you get when you only work for one place. You have to be able to get in that educational environment where you're seeing the case studies of things that have gone awry and remember that when you come time to be dealing with the crisis yourself.
00:18:01 King: Lisa Ramsey Arney, one of our Park Fellows class of 2003. Thanks so much. You're a great spokesman for our program, and I'm glad to see your dream came true.
00:18:12 Arney: It definitely did. Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.