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Building a PR Career from a Start on Wall Street

Catherine Johnson

As a History major graduating in 2007, my career path was obvious: Wall Street.

Along with the many of my fellow liberal arts classmates, we spent little time focused on our strengths and passions in our job search, but rather on perceived prestige, power and security; forgoing our learned skills for a place in the analyst classes of the major investment banks across the globe. Landing an internship and then full-time position at Lehman Brothers in 2006 felt as if I had made it, and my countless hours in the library studying history seem worthwhile. That is, until I got there.

I joined Lehman Brothers in 2007 as an analyst within its Equities Sales & Trading division. Having studied only micro- and macroeconomics at an introductory level, and fulfilling my required math credit with a class titled, “Ideas of Mathematics,” I was, needless to say, well-equipped. Lehman provided a helpful eight-week training program, but it did little to fill the void that I felt in those first three months on the job. While everyone promised Wall Street would be intoxicating, I remained sober.

Almost immediately, I knew selling equities wasn’t going to be my long-term career, but nonetheless, I made the most of it. In that first year, I learned about the capital structure, stock fundamentals, options trading, and bringing initial public offerings to market, but it was not until the financial crisis where I became not only fascinated, but captivated by the broader industry.

The very bank that I thought would offer me prestige, power and security was rupturing the entire global financial system – at least according to the news. I obsessively read every story from every major publication and compared it to my own experience within the four walls of Lehman. I witnessed the news first-hand – often from the window by my desk – and watched the resulting media coverage not only influence the firm’s stock price, but impact the global economy. It was at this moment that I truly recognized the importance of the media, and my passion for it. It was also when I learned that perception is often far from reality: Lehman went bankrupt. 

While I survived the transition of Lehman Brothers to Barclays Capital and maintained my job as an equities salesperson for another year, I still recognized it wasn't part of my long-term plan. I didn’t want to depart the industry, but I needed something broader—something that played to my strengths as a History major. So, what did I do? Took a job at a hedge fund, naturally.

I joined a large hedge fund where I worked under two impressive gentlemen from Goldman Sachs. We were tasked to build out the firm’s investor relations and business development program. Not immune to the financial crisis and Madoff’s impact on the industry’s reputation, the firm needed to diversify its asset base and build a more robust marketing machine, appealing to both institutions and high-net-worth individuals. It was here that I learned about both the asset management industry and the real power in storytelling. While my job focused largely on analyzing and explaining the nuances of the firm’s investment portfolio, the rapid growth of the asset management industry became all the more apparent to me, and further piqued my interest in storytelling. I knew I was ready for something more.

So, again, what did I do? I joined Deutsche Bank, the only investment bank left standing on Wall Street proper, of course. Only this time, it was different: I was hired into Deutsche Bank’s communications and marketing department.

Leveraging my experience and deep knowledge of the industry, I joined the team that captivated my interest during the financial crisis: press and media relations. At Deutsche, I learned about everything that went behind the scenes to develop the stories about Lehman and further honed my skill of storytelling—both the good and the bad. I was learning, writing, creating relationships, and still in an industry whose dynamism, pace and impact excited me. I had found my fit and was finally fully drinking the Wall Street Kool-Aid. It was at Deutsche where I truly redirected my trajectory and turned my past experiences – my jobs – into a career.

I wasn't necessarily looking for a new home when I found Prosek, but the minute I walked into the office, I knew it was something special. I had never experienced a culture so affable and yet so impactful. Much like my experience at Deutsche Bank, Prosek was creating stories that had an impact on not only the financial industry, but the global economy – all the while, having fun! Since I have joined Prosek, I can’t speak more highly of the environment and my colleagues. I continue to learn about the industry and from my peers at a pace far exceeding that of a trading floor. I have also never been so excited and motivated by the prospect of building a long-term career than at Prosek.

My path to Prosek was far from conventional, but I share it with you to share the Prosek experience. We all have different stories to tell and different ways of getting here – however, it is what distinguishes Prosek from any place I have worked and makes the experiences worthwhile. While my path wasn’t perfectly mapped — no one’s is — I made the most of it and am grateful to be here. 

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