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Key Takeaways from Working at JWA

By Carol Ann Underwood

Carol Ann Underwood.png

I am a firm believer that every opportunity and experience can contribute to my personal and professional growth. Many of my goals have been aligned with gaining experience to becoming a better communications professional. I recently accomplished one of my professional goals: earning a master's degree in communications. Two years of academic and professional work flashed before my eyes as I crossed the graduation stage.


When studying for my master’s degree, I became a graduate assistant at the Plank Center, an organization that helps develop and recognize outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors to advance ethical public relations. Former Plank colleague, Adriel McMahan, who went on to become Account Coordinator for Jeff Winton Associates (JWA), felt her new employer would provide a good learning experience for me. As a Plank Center board member, Jeff appreciated my Plank experience and extended an opportunity to work with JWA while I completed my graduate program.


I reflect fondly on my time at JWA–from working with healthcare organizations to one-on-one mentoring sessions. JWA is not your typical agency. JWA is mostly comprised of senior-level executives. They each have more than 20 years of global business experience. Not only are they experienced, but they are passionate about communications and mentorship. Jeff and each consultant took a vested interest in helping me improve my skills. These past few months taught me a few things:

1. Agency work is a challenging yet rewarding experience.

My prior work experiences have been in in-house communications or marketing roles. In-house opportunities enabled me to fuse together with an organization. I would become a part of the organization’s identity to assist in achieving its goals. I knew agency life was different from my previous positions but working at JWA opened my eyes to the distinct differences in agency settings. It is fast-paced, and I had to shift my train of thought between projects and organizations.


2. Mentorship was crucial to my personal and professional growth.

Mentorship is a critical aspect of long-term professional growth. JWA offers the unique opportunity to form these mentor relationships, which pivoted my way of thinking and undertaking projects. Key team members and consultants took time out of their busy schedules to offer guidance on approaches to projects and clients. I am grateful for these relationships and know that it does not end with the conclusion of my time at JWA.  

3. Agency life promotes the learning of different trades and specialties. 

JWA specializes in healthcare communications. Before I began working here, I had very limited knowledge about the healthcare industry. The first few weeks offered a sizable learning curve before I could participate in client projects or assignments. Even within different therapeutic areas of healthcare there are many disciplines and lines of work.

4. JWA consultants encourage a higher level of critical thinking to create solutions for clients. 

Most of the JWA consultants have years of experience in healthcare communications. They have experienced many industry changes and seen many situations which make them experts in this industry. Their level of thinking is not one that I have witnessed in academia or in previous professional opportunities. Their thinking is immediate, reflexive, and second nature. They have incredible insight that allows them to predict and consider a multitude of outcomes that had never occurred to me before. There were many instances where I would wonder, “How did I not think of that?” Observing this level of thinking encouraged and expanded the way I look at and think about projects.

I will carry these takeaways with me for the rest of my career. The experience and knowledge gained from Jeff and JWA consultants are invaluable and unmatched. I cannot thank Jeff enough for extending this opportunity to me. And to my amazing JWA mentors, thank you for continuing to mold me into a better communications professional.

Carol Ann Underwood recently earned her master’s degree in advertising and public relations from the University of Alabama. After graduation, she completed her assignments at Jeff Winton Associates and has now embarked on the next step in her professional journey. 

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