Katherine Ritchey (2001, MSJ/BS, Journalism, Communications, Political Science) joins us for Nonprofit Week. Katherine serves as the Communications Manager at the Pew Research Center. Read on to learn about her current role and career path.
Describe your role with Pew Research Center. What drew you to the organization and how long have you worked in your role?
My job is to develop and execute communications strategies to promote and disseminate the center’s research to a variety of audiences. This includes traditional media relations, social media strategy, outreach to policymakers, academics and other stakeholders; and events and presentations.
I’ve been at the Pew Research Center about a year and a half, and was drawn here because I’d longed admired the organization for the way its data and research were a trusted part of the public discourse. Hardly a day went by that I didn’t read a news article or column or hear a public official citing the Pew Research Center’s work. When I was looking for a job in DC, I was especially interested in working at a think tank or research organization, and as I read up on the Pew Research Center, I found its mission — “conducting empirical research that helps policymakers, civic leaders, educators and the public at large understand and address some of the world’s most challenging problems” – particularly compelling.
What is your work and education background?
I majored in communications studies and political science at Northwestern and then, thinking I wanted to become a reporter, got my master’s in journalism at Medill. Even though I ultimately decided not to go into journalism, I’m grateful for my Medill education for many reasons: It taught me how to synthetize complex information quickly, to thrive in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment, to share information in compelling ways and to adapt to constant change.
I spent the first 12 years of my career working in strategic communications for PepsiCo, first for the company’s Quaker/Tropicana/Gatorade businesses in Chicago, and later for its Frito-Lay division in Texas. My responsibilities in those roles included employee communication, media relations, community relations, crisis communications, issues management, speechwriting and digital media.
Describe a typical workday.
As I’m sure people across a variety of roles and industries would tell you, there’s rarely a typical day! If we’re getting ready to release a major research report, I spend most of my time developing the release plan, which includes drafting press releases, key messages and other communications materials, identifying the appropriate reporters, producers and editors to promote the research to, working with our web team on the digital strategy and helping prepare our researchers for interviews and presentations. Other days, there may be issues in the news on which we’ve conducted surveys or other research, so I spend a good deal of time responding to reporters and producers’ queries and helping them find and understand data they can use in their stories, as well as and monitoring and reporting on the news and other coverage our research receives.
What does an entry level role look and entail?
It really varies by function. On the communications side, someone in an entry-level role supports all aspects of the center’s external relations, from responding to calls and emails from the media to arranging logistics for media interviews with the center’s experts to tracking daily news coverage of the center’s research to updating databases with information about our media contacts. On the research side, someone in an entry-level role would help with areas such as survey design, data collection and analysis and report writing.
What’s the best thing about working at Pew Research Center?
Without a doubt, it’s the people here. As a nonpartisan, nonadvocacy organization, focused on providing facts that inform the public and drive sound decision-making, accuracy, transparency, objectivity and integrity are absolutely critical to our research and communication. My colleagues are incredibly committed to and rigorous in upholding those values in everything they do.
What professional advice do you have for job-seeking graduating students interested in this field? For students who are early in their college careers?
I encourage anyone interested in working at a think tank or research organization – regardless of the type of role you’re interested in – to build your writing and public speaking skills. At my organization, and at most other similar types of organizations, getting the word out about our findings is just as critical as conducting the actual research. Our researchers not only develop surveys and analyze data, but also write reports, present findings to government officials and NGOs, conduct interviews with the media and share their work on social media.
How has the Northwestern alumni network impacted your career?
I can’t say enough about now valuable the Northwestern network has been throughout my career and especially so when I was looking for a job in DC. On several occasions, I reached out to Northwestern alumni I didn’t even know who worked at organizations or in roles I was interested in, and they were all extremely gracious about meeting with me, sharing their advice and putting me in touch with others in their network they thought might be able to help me. I applied for my current job through the Pew Research Center’s online application system, but it was an NU alum’s contact who helped get my résumé into the right hands.
In all the cities I’ve lived, I’ve attended networking events and career seminars organized by the local NU alumni clubs and the Northwestern Alumni Association, and I’ve always come away with terrific career insights and new contacts.
I’m also a board member of the Northwestern Club of DC and a member of the Council of 100. I’m at a point in my career where I have experiences and knowledge that might be useful to others, and I want to give back to other NU alumni the way others have to me. Being part of both of those groups helps me do so, as well as to continue to network and learn from others.
What does your work space look like?
As you can see from the photo, my work area is a typical, basic office with a desk, phone and computer, similar to most any office environment. Most of us here – myself included – work from two computer screens, so that we can easily look at the data we’re writing or talking about and monitor the news or social media while we’re doing other work. I’m definitely a “minimalist” and rarely have anything on my desk that I’m not using or don’t absolutely need!
What gadget, office tool or program can’t you live without?
Twitter is very useful at work, both to reach our audiences with our research and to stay on top of how our data and the topics we research are being shared by the media and experts and entering the public discourse. The Pew Research Center and our key research areas have Twitter accounts that help us promote our research, and most of our researchers tweet regularly about the topics they study. I also “follow” reporters, scholars, policy makers and other experts focused on the topics we study, so scanning my Twitter feed throughout the day gives me a quick read of who’s using our data and where there might be outreach opportunities.
What’s the best career or life advice you’ve received?
To be willing to take risks. Taking risks has allowed me to bring innovations to the organizations where I’ve worked, to continually learn on the job and to explore new career areas. If I wasn’t willing to take a risk, I never would have left a promising corporate job and moved to a new city where I hardly knew anyone to make a career change I felt was best for my long-term aspirations. A year and a half later, I’m certainly grateful I took that risk!
Are you interested in learning about nonprofit organizations that are similar to the Pew Research Center? Be sure to explore the following organizations.