Christine Nyirjesy Bragale (C’88) is the Director of Media Relations at Mercy Corps, a leading global organization powered by the belief that a better world is possible. In disaster, in hardship, in more than 40 countries around the world, Mercy Corps partners to put bold solutions into action—helping people triumph over adversity and build stronger communities from within.
Center for Social Impact Communication: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Christine. To begin, would you please describe your career path and your current position.
Christine Nyirjesy Bragale: I like to joke that I’m a ‘reformed journalist.’ I started my career in television news, working 10 years as a Washington-based producer and news editor and member of the White House Press Corps. My last newsroom position was at Associated Press Television News (APTN) – I was a member of the launch team. Mostly I focused on U.S. national politics, diplomacy and the major international news of the day – from Desert Storm and the war in Bosnia to airline disasters and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I covered the last months of the Reagan administration, plus the administrations of Bush I and Clinton.
It’s at the AP that I discovered that I really love building, and my roles in public relations have focused on building to that proverbial next level. I spent a decade at Goodwill Industries International, where we built a media relations platform that both delivered the leadership voice and elevated the voices of local Goodwill organizations. I made my transition into the for-profit world via Weber Merritt, a boutique public affairs firm, building my experience in grassroots advocacy, then moved on to TASC, a national security company. TASC was a 40+-year-old firm that Northrop Grumman had acquired then spun off in the wake of new defense procurement rules. My job there was to help rebuild the company’s external communications function.
My love and loyalty sit firmly with mission-focused communications. Today I lead the global media relations team at Mercy Corps, a global organization focused on meeting immediate needs of today through humanitarian action and building a stronger tomorrow through development programs. It’s a particularly exciting time to work in communications here. We have built a super agile, time-zone dispersed team of six media relations pros and the broader Marketing Communications team just launched a new brand. Looking ahead at the next three years, we’re looking at new partnerships within and without Mercy Corps to exponentially raise profile, influence and funds. In other words, we want people everywhere to know us, love us and support us.
CSIC: Wow, what an interesting career path! And we couldn’t help but notice that you are a fellow Hoya, what is the best piece of career advice you have for Georgetown students?
CNB: Be open to feedback…on everything: your approach to a vexing problem, your wish-I-could-do-over moment in that tense meeting or the op-ed you slaved over all week. Use every success, hiccup and failure as a learning moment. (About that op-ed, remember this: Even Pulitzer Prize winners have editors.)
CSIC: A great tip for us all. What career accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
CNB: As a media relations strategist, I’m always proudest of the latest big success – right now it’s a series of Wall Street Journal articles on how counter-terror rules impact the banking system, with focus on NGO financial transactions for aid operations in countries like Syria and Somalia. We’ve been stewarding this opportunity for more than a year, and it’s a stellar example of how advocacy + media can “make” influence to create impactful change and an environment that enables, rather than hinders, lifesaving work. Don’t get me wrong – the change we need isn’t there yet, but there are signs of significant progress!
CSIC: Congratulations, that sounds like a big win! What can someone do early in his/her social impact career to secure a position similar to yours?
CNB: Get experience in “the field”, no matter the sector that inspires you.
Having an understanding of real-time operational challenges and opportunities will make you a smarter (and more desirable!) communicator. After all, the business strategy drives the communications strategy, and the communications strategy advances the business strategy. You need to have good insights into the business to design and execute the communications plan that yields measurable and lasting impact.
CSIC: What skills are necessary to work in media relations for a major nonprofit?
CNB: In terms of technical skills: a strategic mindset, superior writing skills and a nose for news. In terms of soft skills or personal attributes: tenacity, emotional intelligence and a good sense of humor and the ridiculous.
CSIC: And what is your go-to source to learn about cause communications trends?
CSIC: Finally, we have to ask: is Mercy Corps hiring?
CNB: Yes! On the media relations team, an entry-level position will open up later this spring because one of our valued teammates is flying off to graduate school, and we’re looking for interns in both Washington, DC, and our Portland, Oregon, headquarters. Mercy Corps is always hiring for a variety of roles: visit our career center at mercycorps.org.
CSIC: A huge thank you to you, Christine, for all your insights and advice!