Interview and Post by: Nicole Clark
Krys Bylund is the Marketing Director for the John Ball Zoo, where she has worked for the last 16 years.
I was excited to talk to Krys for two reasons. Firstly, one of my favorite things to do during the summer is to go the zoo and practice my photography skills. Secondly, Krys has a lot of experience, meaning that she had a lot of helpful insights that I now get to share here.
A Day on The Job
Krys is somewhat unique because she is the only person in the marketing department at John Ball Zoo. This means that she has to juggle many different responsibilities from different areas, including public relations, photography, advertising and social media. She also handles complaints.
“Marketing includes all of our verbal and written communication,” Krys explained. “I would say PR is 50% of my day-to-day duties. Advertising is about 30%, and social media takes up the other 20%.”
To me, the prospect of working in a job where I can use a variety of different skills throughout the day is both exhilarating and a bit stressful. I enjoy having a variety of things to work on at once and think that an environment like that would help me to learn new things every day.
Krys mentioned that one of her strengths is her business background, which helps her think about some things differently than others might.
“I think because I had business experience first, I started to think in a different way.” She explained. “I spend a lot of time thinking: what’s good for the company? Where’s the revenue building in this particular project? I encourage everybody entering any kind of marketing or similar field to keep a keen eye on business practices.”
In class, we had the chance to learn a little bit about how a business is run and how it creates profits. I think that having a deeper knowledge of those things, and being able to think in a mindset like Krys mentioned, is a valuable asset to any PR practitioner.
Krys also said that she has a strong grasp on media relations, and how to work with reporters. She said that is usually able to know “what’s a story and what isn’t a story.” For PR students, developing this skill means learning about news values and by paying attention to news outlets that your organization wants to be covered by.
“I have it made in the shade here at the zoo because I have built-in content,” she added. “Everybody likes animals, so it’s pretty easy for me to get media out here or for us to get in their studios.”
Once Krys has brought reporters to the zoo, she said that she is careful to be helpful, but not controlling.
“I make sure that they’re taken care of, but I let them do their job,” she explains. “I don’t try to structure their shots or make suggestions about what they should be picking up on.”
I think that students who don’t have a lot of media relations experience would be smart to learn from the type of approach Krys uses—even if they do have to dig a bit harder to find newsworthy stories without adorable animals to give them a boost. Remember: media relations isn’t about getting your organization covered; it’s about developing a positive relationship with the people who could be covering it.
Areas for Improvement
“I think I really need to get up-to-speed on digital advertising, some of the new social media platforms and video,” Krys admitted.
Although current students and young professionals may take their comfort on social media platform for granted, knowing how to navigate a digital world can give a huge boost to your job search. If you aren’t on social media, even if it’s just for personal use, you are missing out on a great opportunity to develop skills and increase your visibility.
Obstacles to Success
For Krys, knowing what to prioritize is one of the most important—and sometimes the hardest—part of her job.
“I think it’s important to balance your work day and make sure you know what ball you need to drop,” Krys explained. “If you get caught up doing these little tiny detail things, you can’t see the big picture. There’s just too darn much to do.”
I think that this situation is something that many students, including myself, have developed an ability to do as far back as high school. Juggling classes, work and extracurricular activities may be stressful, but it also teaches us how to manage our time and make sure that we get the most important things done.
One of the most interesting things I learned about Krys was that she had started out her career with a juvenile justice degree.
“I was working in youth homes for kids who got in trouble,” she described. “I was interested in working as a counselor but found that it was unfulfilling.”
For some, the idea of going through four years of college, only to get a job that you didn’t enjoy sounds like a worst-case scenario. For Krys, it was an opportunity to try something new. She kept her eyes open for job openings and applied for something completely different: a job in the advertising department of a movie theater.
“I applied for an entry-level position, even though I had a management-type job at the youth facility,” Krys described. “I went to the interview, got the job, and it was the best thing I ever did.”
Krys ended up working in the movie theater business for 20 years, trying out a variety of marketing jobs. It was these jobs that helped her build the skills that she now uses as John Ball Zoo’s marketing director.
Hearing this from Krys was really interesting because it helped me put my job search into perspective. I realized that even though I love writing and public relations, I don’t have to feel like my path is set in stone.
“I feel so darn sorry for you guys coming right out of college because it really is an overwhelming task to find a job,” Krys said. “I know you probably put yourself under so much pressure to find a great job because you now have this education. Don’t feel like that!”
Advice for Students
Krys had a lot of great advice about finding ways to learn from others when you’re first starting out. One of her key points was to learn from those in leadership positions.
“One thing I would definitely do is listen to the leadership at whatever organization you’re joining,” she said. “They have the keys to the organization. They have the stories, they have the history, they have the culture. They can guide you through and to a successful career at that organization.”
For a new hire, especially one right out of college, it can be hard to remember that you are still in the learning process. This is why listening to the leaders of your organization, or finding a mentor to show you the ropes, can be helpful.
“You will need to learn the culture of the organization. You’ll need to learn how they think,” she emphasized. “You don’t need to know everything!”
Krys explained that learning from leadership can help you learn a lot about a company’s culture, which is important not just to find your fit within it, but to adapt the way you work and communicate. Because of her own career changes, Krys has experienced the importance of adaptation firsthand.
“Zoos have a culture all their own,” Krys explained. “People are worried they’ll be looked at critically. Understand where they’re coming from and what they’re worried about, and adopt your position to that.”
I was thankful for this bit of advice because company culture is a big deal for many job seekers, but they aren’t always sure about how they are supposed to learn about it and adapt to it.
Overall, I really enjoyed talking to Krys, and am excited that she is our first interview on Perspectives!
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