About David Ward: David Ward is a Strategic Communications Advisor with over 12 years of business and policy expertise. He currently serves as Director of Public Affairs for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), in addition to sitting on the Communications Committee for the Public Affairs Council (PAC). His extensive background in the communication field includes positions as External Affairs Manager at GE, Director of Public Affairs for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and Communications Manager for Keystone Progress.
Mr. Ward holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Nevada, and a Master of Arts in Communication from Villanova University. In 2017, he completed Georgetown University’s Executive Master of Professional Studies (EMPS) in Global Strategic Communications program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[David Ward] I’ve earned a diverse mix of educational and professional credentials throughout my career. This includes a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Nevada, a Master of Arts in Communication from Villanova University, and an Executive Master’s in Global Strategic Communications from Georgetown University. Each degree contributed to building a unique view on the role and use of communications by enterprises.
For more than a dozen years in Washington, D.C., I’ve worked for organizations spanning the government, nonprofit, corporate, academic, and association sectors. Overall, the majority of my experiences have centered on strategic communications planning, earned media relations, and organizing national programs.
Currently, I’m the Director of Public Affairs for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), overseeing advocacy communications for a 1,000-member strong association that includes the John Deere Company, Caterpillar, Doosan Bobcat, and many more. I also sit on the Communications Committee for the Public Affairs Council (PAC) and during my time at Georgetown University was co-voted as “Most Likely to Become a Chief Communications Officer.”
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Executive Master of Professional Studies in Global Strategic Communications (GSC) program at Georgetown University?
[David Ward] After working in our nation’s capital for a few years early in my career, I felt that strategic communications was an area with lots of opportunities. I also decided earning an advanced degree was going to be a career necessity to move upward quickly.
It was during those early years in D.C. that I realized there was a strong intersection between my education in psychology and my strong passion for politics. I was watching the world change, not just with the 24-hour news cycle, but with the powerful use of Twitter during the Iranian green movement, and the early beginnings of President Obama’s 2008 campaign. Overlapping all this was communications and the new tools that were becoming available.
Ultimately, it led me to obtain my Master’s in Communication from Villanova University, which was much more research-based. This was a program more geared towards students wanting to go on to earn their doctorates and become professors. I knew I wanted to go back into practice, which led me back to D.C. After a few years of earning additional job experience, I realized I was hungry for more studies.
That’s when I found the Georgetown University program. It’s still relatively new but it’s well worth it. The program opened up a remarkable network of senior communicators leading the most successful companies in the world (Amazon, Southwest Airlines, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Wal-Mart, Boeing, and many more). It also placed me in intensive learning environments, including London, Malaysia, Singapore, and San Francisco. The programs of study, the professional network, and the ability to learn in a global environment really helped give me confidence and the experiences I needed to be better prepared for today’s global business environment.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is Georgetown’s GSC program structured, and what concepts did the program emphasize? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[David Ward] Georgetown’s GSC program is structured into five areas of programmatic study. With each area taking place both remotely online and in intensive learning environments located around the world. Through the program, I joined a small, but cohesive student cohort of 11.
Throughout the five programmatic areas, we learned about working on global teams, global strategy and management, fundamentals for business success and investor relations, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and shared value, and a final area of story that involved deep research and study of a modern, unique communications challenge or opportunity.
The program also led each student to develop a leadership development plan for themselves. We worked closely with an experienced counselor on developing a career development plan for ourselves. This included an ongoing, introspective review of who we are both professionally and personally. It ultimately led to amazing insights that changed many students’ vision of what they’d like to do with their careers.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe the five residencies included in the GSC program and your experience completing them? What is involved in the final capstone residency, and what advice do you have for students in terms of successfully completing this final component of the program?
[David Ward] The five residencies were week-long intensive learning environments. This included both classroom discussions and presentations by various experts, as well as visits in the field at the headquarters of global businesses, public relations firms, international newsrooms, corporate social responsibility-focused groups, and more. It took us to landmarks like the London Tower, Forest City in Malaysia, and the Autodesk headquarters in San Francisco.
Each residency was the best opportunity to apply what we had learned remotely over several weeks leading up to those intensive learning environments. Each one also required a presentation of some kind on an area of focus that we chose relating to that residency: including CSR and investor relations. In London, I was part of a group project focusing on Time to Change; in San Francisco, I presented on financial communications research related to PG&E; and for the final capstone, I presented a plan for how to rebuild trust in Volkswagen’s brand following its diesel crisis. The final capstone is the most intensive but also the most rewarding. You’re allowed to pick any communications challenge or opportunity you’re interested in and apply everything you learned throughout the year into one final presentation. It also gives you something really impressive to take with you to eventual job interviews.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Georgetown’s EMPS in Global Strategic Communications program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[David Ward] I think the takeaways from the Georgetown EMPS program I found most helpful were:
- Perhaps most important, is understanding how important communications is to everything organizations do today. And how important it is for communications to be at the table with the CEO and other senior leaders of an organization. If you’re not working for an organization who values communications at the highest level or who is open to the prospect of raising communications to the highest level, then it may be time to look for a new organization to work for. In today’s business environment, if communications isn’t treated as a trusted advisor with the most senior leaders then it does a disservice to the organization and to your ability to perform your role well.
- You need to invest in yourself by working at your professional brand. It’s like a part-time job while you’re working at your full-time job. To get to the next level, you have to take part in extra-curricular activities like a communicators committee for the PRSA or the PAC, or professional blogging once-a-month on LinkedIn, something that shows you think about communications seriously and want to demonstrate lessons learned.
- We’re in a global communications environment and you need to expose yourself to different cultures and diverse teams. It’s becoming more and more likely that you’ll find yourself working in an environment where you’re relying on colleagues situated globally no matter where you work. Understanding that and being able to thrive in that environment is critical.
- Working at growing your professional network is critical to not just advancing your career but making sure you’re learning all there is to know about a rapidly changing communications environment. There’s so much change happening, so quickly, that you won’t be able to keep up if you’re not trying to learn from others’ experiences in different fields or different organizations. I think you’ll also need to have a strong web of relationships in order to reach the highest levels there are to offer a communications professional. For me that includes eventually earning the title of Chief Communications Officer.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting Georgetown University’s Executive Master’s in Global Strategic Communications program? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at Georgetown or another university?
[David Ward] My best advice for students wanting to join the Georgetown program is to make sure you’re ready for it. Joining an executive master’s program too soon in your career can make it less valuable than it otherwise would because you simply haven’t gained enough professional experience to lean on to take advantage of the content of the program.
However, once you feel you’re ready — go all in. It’s an investment but it’s well worth it. There’s probably no other program like the Georgetown program in the world. One that takes you to so many corners of the world, one that connects you to a masterful network of communicators, and one that challenges you over a year in a way that really does prepare you for a global business environment.
I would also say think thoroughly about what type of program you’d want to go into. There are more research-driven programs like the Villanova program I attended, and ones that are more real-life practice driven like the Georgetown one. Picking one over the other without knowing what it offers can lead you down a path that you may not be fully happy with and your investment is less well spent.
Thank you, Mr. Ward, for your excellent insights on Georgetown University’s Executive Master’s in Global Strategic Communications program!