#CareerTalk with Chris Sellers

Chris Sellers.jpeg

In our new #CareerTalk series, Lisa Gu, IABC Waterloo Membership Director, interviews Chris Sellers. Chris is a passionate community leader, a long-tenured IABC member (since 1995), and a master in finding information without using Google. Meet Chris Sellers, Director of Communications, Marketing, and Strategy at Lutherwood.

LG: How did an Environmental Studies graduate become a director of communications, marketing, and strategy? 

CS: I chose to study the environment simply because of my interest in the impacts of human activity on the natural environment. After graduating, I worked on a series of environmental planning contracts for Ontario Hydro and spent a lot of time on the road talking to business owners and residents about future hydro corridors, including controversial topics such as the need for expropriating land and the perceived health impacts of electromagnetic fields.

This real world experience taught me that clear, timely, and effective communication is critical to inform an audience and avoid or mitigate a crisis. I also learned that it’s very important to be engaged in my community, which led me to find work at a local company — Babcock & Wilcox in Cambridge.

In 2007, my passion for community engagement drove me to Lutherwood. Today, as the Director of Communications, Marketing, and Strategy, I work with staff and leaders to set our vision (what does success look like), develop a plan to achieve that vision, and deliver impactful communications to help us accomplish the plan.

So, while my post-secondary education was helpful to get me started, it’s the continuous learning throughout my career that has led me to where I am now.

LG: You held different positions in the public and private sectors, as well as not-for-profit organizations. What do you enjoy most about working in different sectors?

CS: To use a cliché, variety is the spice of life. I consider myself fortunate to have had experience in a variety of sectors and organizations. I had different levels of responsibility, budgets, benefits, travel, and job stability. While I learned and grew in each of my jobs, my work in the not-for-profit sector has been particularly meaningful and rewarding. I work with some amazing people who go the extra mile to make life-changing differences in other people’s lives every day.

To me, the enjoyment doesn’t come from the job, company, or sector you work in. The key to a successful career is aligning what you do with your “why.” I believe in the old saying: “Do what you love and you'll never work another day in your life.”

LG: Great advice! What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in communication and marketing in the past 25 years?

CS: I’ve seen two significant changes: the adoption of the internet (yes, I am that old!) and the introduction of social media (which makes me feel that old!). When a colleague introduced me to this new “world wide web,” I remember asking why there wasn’t a printed directory of its contents. This was long before Google. The search for information started with a flashing DOS cursor that waited for a valid search string which might include an asterisk, some key words, and if I was feeling particularly adventurous, a Boolean search operator (google it).

In my first job at Ontario Hydro, the only way to research community issues was to drive to their local library and read through local newspapers and microfiche (google that too). The introduction of this new “Information Superhighway” afforded 24-hour access to a rapidly expanding information base so that I could research customer and local issues right from my desk in Toronto (something we take for granted today).

Social media has likewise revolutionized communications. Previously, traditional media outlets were the only way to broadcast information and your carefully crafted corporate message was subject to change by editors and reporters who know their audience but not the subject matter. Now we can send a message directly to our followers and another 3 billion social media users anywhere and at any time. In fact, we are so plugged into the virtual world that the real world is creating cell phone zombie laws!

LG: Technology continues to change the world around us. As a senior leader, how do you stay motivated and creative? 

CS: As I mentioned, staying motivated has everything to do with aligning with your “why.” Senior leaders must be innovative and think at a strategic level, and yet also remain available to our team to help them with operational issues. Strategy and innovation require blocks of uninterrupted time to focus. I find the best way to preserve and use that time is to spend half a day at home with the laptop on and the cell phone and email off. It’s amazing how productive we can be when we step away from the illusion of multitasking as being productive.

LG: Speaking of unplugging, where do you find your zen?

CS: Travelling and camping across Canada with my family. I love spending time outdoors; even when it rains non-stop for 6 out of the 8 days we camped at Algonquin Park last summer… but I digress. I love a chance sighting of wildlife, a swim in natural water, a cold clear night sky filled with countless stars, the smell of fresh air, and the stillness and absolute silence that only comes from a canoe trip far away from the closest road.

LG: What a beautiful picture you painted! Any advice for people who are trying to figure out if communication is their gig?

CS: If you like people and variety, try communications. Every organization needs an effective communicator and communication forms a great foundation for any career. You will be challenged because audiences are fickle, English is dynamic, there are numerous social media platforms to master, and wordsmithing by committee is a lesson in negotiations. But when someone reads your work and says that you opened their eyes, helped them understand, calmed a crisis, or inspired them to take an action, you will know the true satisfaction that comes from the gift of communication.

Lisa Gu

Kaitlyn Holbein