Kevin McCarthy is an alumnus of what is now called the Diederich College of Communication with a wide variety of experience in various communication fields.
My name is Kevin McCarthy and I am a Milwaukee native and commuted to campus during my time at Marquette. I graduated in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism (news/editorial sequence) and minors in marketing and psychology. In those days, it was called the College of Journalism and you had a choice of two sequences: News/Editorial and Advertising.
Today, I’m retired and living in Charlotte, N.C. after a 40+ year career that included public relations, media relations, marketing communications, crisis communications, speechwriting and legislative affairs in the insurance, energy and healthcare fields. I lived in four locations — Milwaukee, Houston, Charlotte and Aiken, S.C. My last employer was Atrium Health in Charlotte, a large multi-state healthcare system where I held the title of Manager of Media Relations.
When people ask when I retired, I say, “it’s complicated,” because, in fact, I’ve retired three times. Atrium Health asked if I would come back full-time to help them out during staff shortages/maternity leaves and I did that twice, the last time being in 2021. Since I learned to use a camera early in my career, I now do occasional freelance photo assignments for Atrium Health.
I love the freelance photography gig because it keeps me in touch with my former coworkers. During photo shoots, I’m always running into people I used to work with and that’s fun. The last 15 years of my career were spent in healthcare and I wish I would have discovered that field much earlier in my professional journey. Handling media relations, there were endless stories to pitch and they involved both human interest subjects and technical/medical/scientific topics.
My favorite Marquette memory was being elected Executive Vice President of the student government (then called the Associated Students of Marquette University or ASMU) and serving in that role during my senior year. If the movie “Groundhog Day” were real, I’d like to relive my final year of college.
Below you’ll find some helpful advice for current students:
Student Activities — It’s important to supplement your classroom instruction with hands-on experience while you’re in college. I honed my writing skills by reporting for the Marquette Tribune and spent time as a student intern in the university public relations office. But, I also got involved in activities that were outside of my major that helped me build my people, leadership and organizational skills. Before I was elected to student government, I was among a group of commuting students who founded a commuting student organization. The goal was to help commuters better experience campus life and connect with the residence-hall student population; two groups that would often never cross paths. Try to think outside your major when looking to acquire the skills you’ll need in your professional career.
Realistic Expectations — As I prepared to graduate, I plotted my career on an imaginary line graph. The line shot upward at a 45-degree angle, beginning at the bottom and finishing at the top. I assumed my job responsibilities and income would grow uninterrupted each year. It was hugely unrealistic. My career graph was actually a jagged line, sometimes going up, sometimes moving sideways, and sometimes going down. Your career will go through similar twists and turns. Economic downturns, cost-cutting by your employer and industry upheavals could affect your career trajectory. Don’t let it shake your self confidence. Some of the best lessons are learned from adversity, not achievement.
You, Inc. — Whatever happens in the outside world, the experience and knowledge you’ve gained belong to you and can’t be taken away. And the cool thing about communications careers is that the skills are transferable to many fields. It’s important to learn about the company or industry where you’re currently employed, but the core skills that you possess can be applied anywhere. This gives you flexibility that doesn’t exist in other fields. If conditions take a downturn in one industry, you can move to another one. Plot a career strategy where you view yourself as a “sole proprietor,” independent of any specific company or industry.
Learn Photography — Today, with smart phones, everyone is a photographer, but you should also learn to use a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Quality photos are needed for social media, web sites, annual reports, etc. As I approached graduation, I met with a local public relations professional to learn what I should do to prepare for my career and he gave me that advice. Even though photography was never in my job description, almost every employer took advantage of that skill. And today, I have a “side hustle” of freelance photography that keeps me busy. (P.S. — Less than a decade after meeting with that PR professional, I was hired to replace him when he retired!)