Eileen Cassidy Rivera was decidedly not interested in the world of GovCon ⏤ at least, not at first.
She was thoroughly enjoying her role as director of public affairs and press for the Peace Corps, where the office culture embraced creativity, collaboration and a passion for public service. But in January 2001, Rivera’s political appointment concluded as the Clinton administration ended.
“I never thought I’d be a [marketing and communications]executive in the GovCon industry when I left government more than two decades ago,” said Rivera, who is celebrating the release of her new book, “Hard Talk: Confessions of an Accidental Marketing and Communications Professional.”
“But I will never regret having to reinvent myself to discover a new line of work that allowed me to parent, grow professionally and meet new challenges,” she added.
After the Clinton administration, Rivera began looking for a role that would give her the flexibility to raise her 3-year-old son following a difficult divorce. Then, a close friend from business school told her about a position working on the federal side of EDS, a company that later became Hewlett Packard Enterprise ⏤ and the rest is history.
Over the next two decades, Rivera undertook a series of unexpected journeys ⏤ from managing high-profile public relations crises to campaigning for election while working on a company rebrand to raising a family through a series of life changes.
Now vice president of public relations and communications for Maximus, Rivera has finally written the book that developed in her mind for years. In “Hard Talk,” she shares anecdotes and insights from her career and her observations of the evolution of the MarCom role in the industry.
“When I got started in the GovCon industry by accident more than 20 years ago, there weren’t any books or guides to help me,” she said. “I hope my story can be useful to those who chose a career in MarCom and may relate to my experiences and benefit from my lessons learned.”
About Writing ‘Hard Talk’
“Hard Talk” shares moments of vulnerability and triumph in ways Rivera said aims to help people at any level in their career develop the courage to connect the dots; ask hard questions and get answers to gain an edge; and earn a seat at the table in an industry that measures itself by business growth and allowable profits.
She also hopes the book will help executives and board members examine the function of MarCom in new ways. Government contractors must find ways to grow profitably, align investments around a strategic plan, build better customer experiences, create plans to retain and attract talent, modernize technology platforms, and address many other challenges, she said.
“All that requires what I refer to in my book as ‘powerhouse’ communications and marketing leaders to help make things happen and an ability to use hard talk to have difficult yet essential conversations to make progress in ways leadership may not have initially considered or felt comfortable pursuing,” she said.
“Holding their hand, walking them through the details, and explaining how a carefully orchestrated and coordinated strategy can produce results and position companies for growth are essential skills for today’s PR, marketing and communications leaders.”
Rivera also discusses several other dilemmas and concerns common to the profession, including her experiences tackling trade shows and the importance of working to understand budgets, finance and acquisition processes.
And she weaves in stories of overcoming challenges ⏤ both her own and that of others.
In 2006, Rivera became known as “the lady with the hot pink signs” as she launched a successful campaign for a local school board seat in Alexandria, Virginia. She also happened to be working on a rebrand of the former Pearson Government Solutions that would eventually become known as Vangent. And she was pregnant with her second child, Carmen. Already raising her son Kyle and stepson Drew, Rivera, along with her husband Andrew, were ecstatic to add some pink to their life.
“I was so excited to decorate Carmen’s room in pink, so that color transferred to the theme for my school board campaign,” she said. “Every time I’d shake a hand or introduce myself, someone in the community would say, ‘So you’re that lady with the hot pink signs! I like them!’ And it helped. I got elected.”
Snatching Time in Creative Bursts
Whether it’s running for election, launching a marketing initiative or writing a book, Rivera isn’t one to wait for “the perfect time.”
The most difficult part of the whole writing and publishing process for “Hard Talk” was finding quality time to write, she said. Between working full time, attending her children’s sports events, traveling and serving in her community, Rivera went through the last two years with her laptop practically attached to her, ready to grab time in creative bursts when it presented itself.
WashingtonExec Founder and CEO JD Kathuria wrote the foreword to Rivera’s book while Camille Tuutti served as editor. Rivera worked with self-publishing company Cary Press International to package her story, and her brother Brian designed her website.
“I’m also deeply appreciative to Scott Bartley of Bartley + Dick, a creative agency based in NYC, who I met through my sister-in-law, Lauren, who nailed my cover design and created eye-catching social media promotions,” she said.
What advice would Rivera give someone who has always wanted to write a book?
“Do it,” she said. “Don’t wait for the perfect time, as there is no perfect time. Write about something you’re passionate about. Find a mentor and give yourself a deadline.”
She also recommends pulling in family or friends to help stay accountable. And be prepared to make a significant investment of your own time.
“Writing books is not free,” Rivera said. “Remember, you’re not writing for the money but for the satisfaction of telling and sharing your story. Once you put it all together, there is no better feeling of accomplishment.”
“Hard Talk” is now available on Amazon. For more information, visit cassidyrivera.com.