“The PR/CC program changed my life because my degree gave me more credibility to move from the U.S. Government to private sector PR overseas. On a practical level, I rely on my Georgetown education every day, both when confronting new challenges and executing routine tasks.”
PRCC: Describe your current position and what led you to your job.
Kristen Fiani: As Communications Manager in the Department of Marketing and Communications at Healthpoint Hospital, I work on everything from overseeing English and Arabic content development; to selecting vendors and budgeting projects; to developing community engagement campaigns; to engaging directly with our executive team on strategy on a daily basis. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the job – from the view of a lifelong international affairs student and ex-State Department employee – is conducting internal communications for a workforce representing over 40 nationalities. Even something as simple as the dress code for a company all-hands event can be interpreted in 40-plus ways!
I moved to Abu Dhabi just two and a half months after I finished my PR/CC degree in order to cross “living overseas” off the bucket list. The UAE is perhaps the best place on earth to be an expatriate and I cannot say enough great things about my second home. Just under a year after settling here, I became Healthpoint Hospital’s Communications Manager. Development (the core business of our parent company, Mubadala Development Company) is my passion, and I am proud to offer UAE patients services and expertise that never existed in-country before.
PRCC: What three skills are necessary for someone who desires to pursue a career in communications outside of the United States?
KF: I’m rephrasing the question slightly to be “three attributes/habits” versus skills:
1 – Tough skin: There are many adjustments – personal and professional – when you build a new life and career overseas. Do not let every wave crash on top of you. Keep sight of the bigger picture and keep going.
2 – Adaptability: Understand how culture drives behavior and attitudes towards hierarchy, and adjust your own tactics accordingly. What I say to a British colleague may have a completely different meaning when said to his Filipino counterpart. As the communications experts in our organizations, we must embody adaptability and also impress upon our spokespeople and leadership its importance to having our message received by the other party.
3 – Tell yourself every day, “I’m not in Kansas anymore!”: Even this expression would not make sense to 95% of my current colleagues! Nonetheless … Do not judge or qualify your new environment and its practices against your own biases. While you think you know this instinctively, trust me – you don’t until you are put in a situation that tests you on the spot.
As a prime example, cold calling is the norm here to the dismay of a highly structured girl from New Jersey. No matter that I’m in the middle of a few pressing things, including a deadline for media – if a vendor shows up unannounced at my office door, the culture here expects me to be hospitable and entertain his or her concerns with my full attention. Admittedly, I’m still getting accustomed to this way of doing business, as we’re taught in the West to always make appointments; even my expat friends here plan social outings weeks in advance. That said, I’m ultimately a guest and I want to be a respectful one at that.
PRCC: Tell us how your degree from the PR/CC program has impacted and/or changed your career.
KF: In short, the PR/CC program changed my life because my degree gave me more credibility to move from the U.S. Government to private sector PR overseas. On a practical level, I rely on my Georgetown education every day, both when confronting new challenges and executing routine tasks. I have even shared Mike Long’s outline on how to write a press release and Don Neal’s mid-term exam with my junior officer to teach him the fundamentals of our industry.
PRCC: What career accomplishment are you the most proud of?
KF: I’m most proud to have had the opportunity to represent my country in bilateral relations with Pakistan, the bulk of my portfolio when I was at the State Department between 2010 and 2013. Even if I ultimately left to test the waters in the private sector, I still look back at this time of my life with appreciation and the deepest respect for our diplomats and armed service members who have dedicated their entire careers to promoting U.S. interests around the world.
I am also proud that I had the confidence to leave a very substantial job and fly to Abu Dhabi on a one-way ticket. I always knew that I could get another one-way ticket back if it didn’t work out, but my instinct told me to give it a try. Do not settle – for a job, a man, anything – if you are not happy; life is too short.
PRCC: For PR/CC alumni who are mid career and looking to pivot into more senior roles, what would be your advice to them?
KF: As mentioned, having the PR/CC degree behind me added more credibility to my resume. If you’re reading this newsletter, you’re already on your way to having a better chance of making a move into leadership. It’s also largely about timing and networking. Are you on good terms with the chief decision-makers who will be promoting and/or choosing successors? Are you visible in your organization outside the scope of your day-to-day work? We tend to think that networking is something we should do outside of our organizations in order to get a new job, but I have learned that internal networking is just as important.
PRCC: What professional associations have aided in your professional development?
KF: I would have to credit the Women’s Foreign Policy Network for helping me when I was an undergraduate student at New York University. The network introduced me to an excellent mentor from the State Department who later became a colleague. I would also credit New York University’s Alumni Network in the UAE, which has a strong presence in part due to the establishment of New York University Abu Dhabi. Georgetown’s closest campus is in Qatar – an hour by plane away!
PRCC: Are there any technology trends that you’re really excited to see evolve in the coming months?
KF: In the UAE, there is a large push to get all government services onto mobile applications in a few years, and also to develop more tech entrepreneurship. Right now, you can pay parking and speeding tickets from your mobile phone, as well as register for other services through your municipality’s app.
Being in this market, I am admittedly slightly out of touch with the new technologies in the United States. That said, we have both Uber and Careem (the same service as Uber, playing on the name “Kareem” in Arabic) and Trolley, online grocery shopping and home delivery, available in Dubai (a cousin of Fresh Direct, Peapod, etc.) Always a student of international affairs and commerce, it’s amazing to see how these services and the demand for them carry over borders.