Public Relations Specialist, North America, for Intrepid Group
Interview by: Jaclyn Mika (RSJ '08).
Kasia McGurk, RSJ ’15, is a Public Relations Specialist, North America, for the Intrepid Group.
What did you originally see yourself doing when you first enrolled in journalism school? I had two different visions of my career after RSJ: I love long-form journalism, so I wanted to be a features editor at a fashion magazine; I also wanted to be an anchor for a sports channel (TSN or Sportsnet). If I’m honest, there was also a part of me that wished I’d become a speech writer for a corporate executive. Oh, on the odd occasion I’d dream about being an investigative journalist.
Realistically, like many students, I had a whole load of dreams that all seemed so different, but they circled around my passions, which were—and still are—journalism, sustainability and female empowerment. Given my passion for journalism and my dreams to be a writer, I enrolled in RSJ, knowing the internationally recognized program would help me fulfill my dreams – any of them, potentially all of them.
How did that vision change as the years went by? So, clearly, I never became an editor or a broadcast personality, or even an investigative journalist; however, I do find a piece of all the “dreams” I had five years ago have now formed my career. It’s hard to depict the exact (TSN) turning point—see, I still have my sports broadcast references—but I think it was in second year that I realized the skills I learned at RSJ were transferrable to many different fields, including PR.
As I learned more about journalism and PR, I molded this “super-career” in my mind, where I could work on broadcast and long-form stories, but I could also become the speech writer and the investigator I wanted to be. See, to me, PR is a great asset to journalism and, in order to be a successful PR person, you need to understand (think like) a journalist.
Thinking back to your first-year self, how do you think they would react to where you are now? I hate clichés—and any Ryerson professor will tell you to remove them from your writing—but my first-year self wouldn’t recognize who I am today, I’d be so proud of where I am now. In my still-evolving career, I’ve worked with North American journalists from many publications—the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, CNN, BNN, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail—and I’ve been able to help their editorial teams share stories that I’m equally passionate about: the impact sustainability and purpose-led business strategies have on the bottom line; how championing for women equality in tourism can impact local economies; businesses carbon offsetting their operations can help alleviate the government’s lack of involvement in sustaining the planet. I’ve also spent time with many executives (the best of the best at Intrepid Group, my current employer) in many global offices from Australia to Morocco to prepare them for speeches and media blitzes.
What do you think the RSJ experience offers that you can’t get anywhere else? RSJ turned me into a journalist. The real-life experiences and teaching methods allowed me to refine my writing skills and, with much mentoring, tweak my brain to find the news – not in everything, which is important. Before hands-on learning became a buzzword in education, RSJ’s curriculum was crafted to be immersive and integrated. The real-life newsroom simulations and—shockingly—the fatal error automatic 50% grade were purposely training me to think precisely and to understand the bustle of the news cycle. If I had gone anywhere else, I firmly believe I wouldn’t have received the same training or instruction, which is why I chose the program initially.
What have you done since graduating/how did you arrive at your current position? Since graduating in 2015, I’ve pursued a career in PR. I started interning (a requirement of the RSJ program) at a PR agency near the degree’s end. Since then—with some, ok, a lot of travels and further education intermingled—I’ve moved from an Associate to a Coordinator to a Specialist. I’ve also pursued additional education through a post-graduate degree and I’m currently applying for a MBA, simply because I love learning and value education.
I’d like to say my passion and dedication has led me to the position I’m in. However, I firmly believe that passion can only take you so far, which is why I entirely value the importance of my education and professional experiences.
How has your journalism degree and what you learned in school prepared you for your current career? RSJ taught me a myriad of skills: How to talk and deal with journalists and editors; how to think like a journalists; journalism ethics, which is increasingly important in PR; how to write and edit effectively (you just wait for the first-year grammar test, it’s fun!). Not only is the program’s global recognition a value, but its curriculum prepares you for the working world.
I’ve elevated my RSJ degree in interviews for employment, education and volunteer experiences. Pursing an education from RSJ will be one of your strongest assets in any avenue you want to pursue after graduation.
Can you talk about one of the biggest:
Accomplishments you've made? In 2019, I was award Intrepid Group’s Business Impact Award—given to one of more than 2,000 global employees—recognizing my impact and innovation within the business. The award recognized my ability to open new journalistic opportunities and find impactful stories to share. It was an honour to accept the award in front of hundreds of colleagues in Australia, while I was able to talk to the incredible pieces of journalism I’ve had my hand in since starting with the business.
Challenges you've faced as a journalist? When I started at RSJ there were many talks about the changing media landscape, which was favouring online articles instead of broadcast and print. Well, in five years, I’ve been part of the drastic shift in news sources that were a speculation during my schooling.
There’s this idea that the reader doesn’t have the patience to wait for news or to read news, which welcomes Twitter’s function and the importance of always-on online articles. Once the public would wait until 6 p.m. to get the latest news, now it’s “breaking news” all the time.
However, about five years ago, I read an incredibly inspiring book by former Globe and Mail Editor in Chief, John Stackhouse, about his thirty years “on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution”. Even then, the technology and Internet surge brought disruption to the media. Like any industry, the publications that can evolve will survive, it’s about knowing your audience. In my time, now on the PR side, I’ve found that businesses and readers (tracked through click through rates) still value long-form storytelling, because if it’s worth reading customers/readers will read it and that’s where the best brand stories and journalism comes from. Sure, there needs to be adaptation to provide “breaking news”, but don’t forget the true value in storytelling.
What's one of your favourite memories from j-school? In first year—in what feels like my first day—I was sent to cover a court hearing for an accused murderer. After the hearing, I came back to Ryerson to draft an article that blatantly stated the accused was guilty. Well, it turns out he wasn’t guilty and, even if he was, I’d made a fatal error in reporting: I injected my opinion into an unsolved murder case. Needless to write, Anne shamed me (nicely, of course) and I now remain completely impartial in my writing. Seems bizarre, but a memory that sticks like tack. Of course, there’s the typical freshman parties and life-changing experiences – but don’t tell me that covering a real murder case in your first year isn’t memorable!
Any memorable RSJ professors during your time at Ryerson? You’re learning from the best at Ryerson. I can’t say one professor is more memorable over the other. What I can say, their real-life experience brings real-world application to your education and helps as you transition into the working world.
What advice would you give to current journalism students? I’d say: Experiment. RSJ allows you the opportunity to try different journalism verticals, it also opens doors in connecting fields. If you’re set on a specific career, great, still try courses in other directions. If you aren’t sure what you want to do but know you love to write, you’re a lot like me and, again, you’re set to experiment.