Q&A with Caroline McCain, account associate at communications firm Javelin

Caroline McCain is an account associate at Javelin, a communications firm in the D.C. area. In this interview, conducted by email, McCain discusses her work at Javelin, which has a social media focus, and prior jobs at two churches.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workday like?

A. Javelin is a growing communications firm in Old Town, Alexandria. We do everything from public relations to digital to books to social media. I work as an account associate, and I help with PR projects and lead our growing social media offerings to clients.

Days are pretty full and fast-paced — you’re basically as busy as the news cycle is. Particularly in the world of digital media, there is always something to be done, so it’s not hard to stay busy. I love the fast pace and the range of clients we work with. It keeps me on my toes.

With social media, my days are spent in a pretty consistent rhythm of creation, publishing, measuring and tweaking. Some of our core values at Javelin are continual improvement and accountability — and those are two things that are absolutely necessary in any client-facing relationship, but particularly in social media.

Social is great and can be fun, but unless it’s leading to an actual return on investment, you’re just spinning your wheels. So I spend a lot of time checking in with clients about what’s working, what’s not, and how we can get better results.

Q. You previously worked at as communications director at a Virginia church. What was it like to make a transition from a religious organization to a secular one?

A. The transition, in and of itself, was one that I had wanted to make for a while. But it was a matter of making sure the timing was right. My time spent working for both the church in Virginia, and previously for a church in Durham, North Carolina, was vital to my professional development. Anyone who works in the nonprofit sector knows what it’s like to be given a lot of responsibility, but very limited resources. It forces you to grow quickly.

I was deeply passionate about where I was working, and so I wanted our communications across media to be as effective and excellent as possible. But often that looked like me learning how to code, or learning graphic design, or getting my feet wet with video. We didn’t always have the resources to hire someone who already knew how to do those things.

So those four years working with churches was so great for me. Out of necessity, I developed a whole new skill set, and I had the chance to lead teams of people.

Q. Your surname is a notable one in Washington politics. How has that affected your career, if at all?

A. Ha-ha. Honestly, it doesn’t affect things for me that much. I am immensely proud of my grandfather, and I am proud to call him family. But I hope that my work — both in scope and ethic — stands on its own.

I am more than happy to talk about my name when asked, but it’s rarely something I bring up from the get-go. I imagine here in D.C. people might wonder, but I don’t get asked about it as often as I thought I might. Then again, 2008 was a long time ago. People have moved on.🙂

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2010. What skills that you learned there do you use in your job now, and what new ones have you picked up? What advice do you have for the Class of 2015?

A. It’s become trendy these days to knock on journalism degrees. But the skills and the relationships I gained at UNC are so invaluable. I took away some very practical skills: reporting, editing, what makes for a good story, asking the right questions. And in some of my classes, I was learning how to write good tweets and what Tumblr was long before either social network became as ubiquitous as they are now.

I was on a track to become a reporter, and now I’ve crossed over to the “dark side” and am working in PR! I never took one PR course when I was at UNC, and so it was a surprising step for me.

A lot of the skills I use day-to-day in terms of social media, growing audiences online, etc., are things I learned after graduation. A lot of learning by trial and error, self-education, etc. In the digital space, things are constantly evolving, and so you have to be committed to learning new things every day and adapting to change so you can keep getting better.

My biggest advice to the class of 2015 is to diversify your skill set as much as you can! The j-school already does a great job of this, but I’d encourage you to go beyond what’s required. Take that photo class, learn how to code, actually learn to speak a language conversationally. They seem like requirements now while you’re in school, but all those things will serve you well when you graduate.

UPDATE: In November 2105, McCain left Javelin to oversee social media for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign.