Elaine Cobb is a Senior Comms Consultant here at Definition. Her engineering background makes her an incredible asset to our STEM PR team, where she deftly translates complex concepts into clear, concise messaging. But how does a mechanical engineer wind up in PR? What sorts of overlap are there between those two worlds? We sat down with Elaine to find out.
How did you first get into engineering PR?
I started my career as an engineer on a graduate programme at Thames Water. One of the good things about working for a big company is that you sometimes get opportunities to try different things in other departments through secondments. So, when a change management and culture role popped up, I went off on it. And eventually, that role turned into a PR role.
After Thames Water, I moved to a PR consultancy where we delivered public consultations for sensitive planning developments. That was challenging, but interesting – until the financial crisis hit and all the work dried up. Following that, I built some websites and took a role working with the Guide Dogs Association, where I edited their magazine and started working on social media. Finally, I joined the STEM PR team at Six Degrees, which has since become a part of Definition.
How do you find your engineering background helps you in PR?
The skill sets of engineering and PR actually complement each other more than people might think. There certainly are some engineers who keep their heads down all day, working exclusively on numbers, but there are many engineers who also use a lot of soft skills day to day. Lots of engineers work on negotiation, bidding for new business, project management or other management work, all of which are extremely useful in the PR world.
An engineering background really helps in STEM PR. It’s incredibly useful to understand the fundamental principles and to have worked in some of the areas that we focus on. Having worked on-site, been up close with industrial equipment, knowing how companies form alliances, and being familiar with just-in-time manufacturing philosophy, for example, all make it easier to talk with clients and their target audience. You don’t have to waste time defining terms, so you can get straight to asking meaningful questions. Another key skill in both engineering and PR is managing a project timeline – though it’s fair to say the scales can be quite different!
What advice would you give to somebody starting out in a STEM career tomorrow?
I would tell them to think about what the future holds. I think there’s going to be a lot of automation, a lot of smart solutions, and a lot of AI. Consider pursuing one of these areas of future growth.
Previously, there was a lot of championing of the arts as a career path. Now, there are a lot of people championing of engineering as a career for men and women, which I think this is a really positive thing. I think that it’s mostly down to the rise of internet and technology companies, but it has really boosted the whole STEM Community.
What do you love most about what you do, and why?
What I really enjoy about my job now is that it combines engineering with the comms experience. As an engineer, I worked for a long time on projects that didn’t seem to make much impact, and some were never implemented at all. It was very frustrating to go through the process of carrying out a study to see how we should implement every little detail, whereas now I have the freedom to work on projects that my clients want to show off. Every one of the projects I work on now has made it over the engineering hurdles and they want to convince someone to buy or use it. Every product is a success that somebody is really proud of, and that really makes it quite exciting.
It’s fair to say I’ve had some varied experiences, but what I really love about my job is that STEM PR is all about celebrating successful projects – and that’s not something most people get to do every day.
That’s all from Elaine for now, but we’re always happy to talk about STEM PR. To find out what Definition’s STEM team can do for you, contact us today.