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Nowadays, agencies across the globe seek to protect and amplify their brands both online and offline, causing the need for Public Relations and Communications professionals to surge.

In a recent Q&A, Senior Communications PR Specialist, Arli Lima candidly shared highs and lows from her personal journey to becoming a dynamic PR professional for the City of Baltimore, as well as tips for navigating your own path in this competitive industry.

Can you share your job title and day-to-day duties as a PR Specialist?

I am a Senior Communications PR Specialist, and I work for the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED) for Baltimore City. I manage social media for that office, and for the city’s Youth Works program. I also write press releases and media advisories,  schedule press conferences, and reach out to various outlets to publish stories about our agency.

What about PR interested you enough to pursue a career in the field?

I decided I wanted to work in communications back in my teenage years when I was really into reading magazines — specifically, VIBE magazine. I read an interview on Brandy—she’s like, my favorite artist— and after reading that interview I knew I wanted to start writing and publishing media driven content.  I thought to myself “ this is what I want to do with my life. I want to talk to people, interview people, interact with them.” So, I went to school for English Journalism. I wrote for a bunch of blogs, did a bunch of freelance writing (I still do freelance writing to this day) and I even created my own blog. I like to tell people’s stories. I believe everyone has a unique story that needs to be told.

What events or decisions lead to landing your first PR job?

It wasn’t an easy journey for me because I didn’t follow the traditional college path. I went to school and also worked. When I graduated with my Bachelors, I couldn’t find a job in journalism, so I continued working in customer service.

In customer service, the longer you work for a company, the more your pay increases. I got stuck in that rut for a while since the money was good, but I also continued to freelance. My friend had a really popular blog in Baltimore called “The Fab Empire,” so I wrote for her before starting my own food blog.

At that time, I also knew someone who worked in the Mayor’s office. I kept nagging her – telling her that I was tired of working in customer service, and wanted to build a career in communications. She passed my resume on to someone in the Mayor’s office who was hiring. You know—that’s just how it works when landing most jobs with local government. You can apply in a traditional fashion, but most times it’s about getting your resume directly into the right hands.

She passed my resume on and I ended up interviewing with the Office of Recreation and Parks for Baltimore City. Thing is, it wasn’t for a PR position. The position was “Community Liaison,” but it was under the Communications umbrella. My goal was to get my foot in the door. I told myself — “ I’m going to take this position and work my way into a PR/Communications role.” I gave myself a 2 year deadline to accomplish that goal, and sure enough within 2 years I was offered the position of Public Relations Officer.

Now, rewind back to the Community Liaison position. In that role, I attended community meetings in Baltimore City to hear out residents’ complaints about parks and recreation centers. However, since my boss knew I could write, she would give me writing  assignments here and there. She had faith in my writing abilities and nurtured the PR professional in me. Remember, I went to school for Journalism, not PR. My boss really taught me about the PR aspect of city government communications.

I stayed with Parks & Rec for 2 years prior to moving on to Public Relations and Communications for MOED, which is the capacity that I work in now.

Say someone wants to leave their industry and break into the world of PR, what should they do?

Join Public Relations groups like The Public Relations Society of America or Baltimore Public Relations Council to connect yourself with people in that arena!  You have to make people know you, know your interests and what you can offer. Talk to people who can act as a mentor. Always remember to read up on the industry, buy and study books about what area of PR you want to become an expert in. PR is one of those careers where if you know how to write, create a pitch and talk to people, you’ll eventually find your way.

What key traits should someone possess to be successful in PR?

You must absolutely like people and enjoy being around people. You can’t pretend to like people for the sake of the job. You’ll have to talk to the public and to the media in order get the information that you need and to pass that information on.

Know how write and how to be “on” all the time. The way you carry yourself matters in the PR industry; you’ll be taken seriously when you present well. In this arena, you will likely work with important people in public places — with news anchors and broadcasters. If you present well, they’re more likely to listen to you and latch on to what you have to say.

The good thing is, an attractive wardrobe doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Sometimes I shop at thrift stores and people are always admiring my clothes. I just make an effort to put my look together really well. A few basic pieces to mix-and-match will work just fine.

How do you maintain a fulfilled life outside of work?

I run a food blog called Arli’s Appetite. I like eating and exploring new restaurants. I also enjoy creating and mixing cocktails. Fun fact, during my college years, I earned my bar tending license. Exercise and health has become very important to me as well. I’ve been attending classes at Corecycle lately. I’m also trying to up my photography game!

Is it essential for professionals to create a life outside of work?

It’s extremely important because work can end up consuming your life. Even if you like your job, there will be stress. If you do your job well, people often pile more work onto your desk. Plus, in PR you must ensure that your career is always evolving for the better. Having activities outside of work will help feed that.

Did any aspect of your role in PR take you by surprise initially?

Yes, when I was working for Recreation & Parks. I love Baltimore, but sometimes bad things happen in the park — to put it nicely. Because of that, I would receive alerts on my phone about big news or tragedies that would happen in parks around the city. Sometimes, the police would call me for statements. One time, TMZ even called me because there was this national story trending about ghosts in one of Baltimore’s parks. I did not expect to have to handle anything like that when I first took the job!

Depending on the type of PR, your job can turn into crisis management. When something would happen in the park that created negative news, I had to know how to spin the story to highlight the positives of what goes on in Baltimore’s parks, i.e. festivals and events.

I’m a huge Olivia Pope fan. When I get calls like that, I go into Olivia Pope mode: I put on a strong face, a strong voice, and get through it.

Has your family always been supportive of your career choice?

My family wanted me to get a job at the Social Security Administration so badly. They told me that if I landed a job with SSA and worked my way up, I could work there for my entire life with no issues. They didn’t understand that PR was a legitimate career until they saw me on a local news segment talking about poinsettias for Christmas one day. Generationally, your career choice may not make sense to your family, don’t worry about that. Family may try to push a career onto you that they think you’ll be happy doing. I suggest doing what you enjoy. Once your career takes off, your family will understand why you stuck with it.

It’s the last day on earth and you have to give a 30 second speech. Where would you hold that speech? On what TV station would it broadcast? What would you wear? What would you say?

I’m not sure about location, but I’d want it to broadcast on the OWN Network. It’s such an inspiring network! I’d definitely wear a power suit —red or white. Like I said, I’m obsessed with Olivia Pope, so it would be an Olivia Pope inspired outfit.

30 second speech: I  wasn’t very passionate and didn’t hustle enough in my 20’s. If I would have, I’d be much further along in my career than I am now. I was young and getting money, not worried about my career. With age, I realized I wanted to make a living from something I actually enjoyed. Start building your career while you’re young! Build your network, find mentors — find people who will support you. Most times, when you’re young, you have less responsibility and so much more energy. When you’re young, and have fewer expenses, you can even work for free in order to get the experience you need.

Want to keep up with Arli? Follow along @arlisappetite


Instructions Included is question and answer column where professionals of color candidly discuss their career journeys, from the beginning to present, with intent to guide and inspire.