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February 18, 2022 // Kristen Kmetetz // Opinion  //       //  Opinion

What do Olympic figure skating and a career in PR have in common?

Watching the figure skating events at the Winter Olympics always brings me back to my childhood days of crack-of-dawn training sessions, the joy at finally landing that Axel I worked so hard to perfect, and the nerves and excitement of competition. Growing up, I was the only kid in my school who figure skated. Yet throughout my career in PR, I’ve had the pleasure of working with at least a dozen former skaters, coaches and judges. So, what attracts a high number of figure skaters to the communications industry, and how do we apply the lessons we learned on the ice to our jobs?

Both skating and PR are a delicate balancing act of precision and artistry

To reach the top of the podium as a figure skater, you must master extremely difficult jumps and spins with laser precision, and skate with grace and artistry. Nathan Chen is the perfect example: he won Olympic gold in Beijing by landing five quadruple jumps stitched together with engaging choreography set to an Elton John medley. While I am no Nathan Chen, I love what I do because it requires creativity and business acumen in equal measure. In PR, we need to understand our clients’ businesses and their goals, ensure we can measure our results, and manage our teams in a way that sets them up for success. My colleagues are also some of the most creative people I’ve ever met, constantly coming up with attention-grabbing ideas that range from scrappy ways to inject a client into a cultural moment to a major partnership or campaign. By blending our business minds with our creative talents, we help our clients achieve greater awareness, change perceptions and impact culture.

We’re strategists by nature

Cat Forgione, figure skater-turned-A+P account director, shares: “As a figure skater, you strategically craft a program’s every jump, spin and footwork sequence to play to your strengths. You even plan out the timing in the program so you can maximize points for the best score. During the program, you may make some spur-of-the-moment changes to increase difficulty or make up points for things that didn’t work earlier. In PR, we use this same brain to help us craft smart strategies for our clients to maximize ROI, including identifying places to shine, offering calculated risks and pivoting in the moment to take advantage of a timely trend or news angle – ultimately leading to the perfect communications program.”

We can tell a great story using a pen or a blade 

Cat adds: “My favorite part of figure skating was always the choreography and movement. Painting a picture through music or performing in the annual Christmas show was always a highlight for me (yes, there is footage of me on an old camera somewhere performing to NSYNC, White Christmas and Oliver Twist). The artistry allows us to become storytellers without even using words. And in PR, we are typically thinking through the story in an extremely detailed way that makes content resonate with audiences.”

I always loved interpretive skating, or interpreting music on the ice without pre-planned choreography. I often use a similar method when I’m writing a plan or a piece of content. I force myself to write all of my thoughts and ideas down, without consideration for whether or not they are “good enough.” Then I pick out the best bits and pieces and craft them into a final piece, similar to the way an improvised piece of footwork would often work its way into a polished competition program.

We are fearless performers

OK, maybe I’m not a totally fearless performer. But skating taught me confidence under pressure, which continues to serve me well off the ice many years later. Sometimes I catch myself smiling through a high-stakes presentation and I have to laugh, knowing that it’s a habit ingrained in me through years of on-ice performances.

While I was definitely never destined for Olympic greatness, I’m grateful I found a career where I can apply some of the skills I once honed on the ice. I may not ever land a triple Axel, but I know how to land a great story!  
 

Kristen Kmetetz, EVP Client Service + Operations and leads the Boston office at Allison+Partners, where she partners with clients across health and wellness, technology, food, and consumer to build brand awareness and change behavior through storytelling.

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