6 Lessons Learned Working at Coca-Cola

(From Scott Williamson, Vice President Public Affairs and Communication, at the 2015 PRSSA National Conference)

Two years ago as a fresh PR major, I had the opportunity to represent my university at the 2015 PRSSA National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the keynote speakers was Scott Williamson, the Vice President of Public Affairs and Communication at Coca-Cola, and he discussed six major lessons he learned working at this company over the years.

  1. Ignore the data

(New vs. old formula story, “Tell me your coke story”)

With this lesson, Williamson described the process of how Coke came up with its major campaign that transitioned the company just from looking at product data to branding through storytelling. Coke became legendary transitioning to sharing the “stories” behind Coke or the memories associated with it through commercials that were a HIT (I’m sure you thought of some of Coke’s commercials as you read this), and it revolutionized the whole company and brand.

  1. When you communicate anything, be simple, be clear, be awesome

(Everything communicates, say vs. don’t say, do vs. don’t do)

This lesson somewhat speaks for itself, but Williamson emphasized not to over-complicate a brand’s message and to make sure you present a clear message to the public. He also touched on how everything communicates as a company from you say and do to don’t say and don’t do.

  1. Shine your own shoes and iron your own shirt

-Sweat the details

-No job is too small to give your best effort

-You never know who’s watching

The three key points listed above are what Williamson spent a lot of time discussing. He shared the story of how while traveling at a hotel with his boss, his boss took notice in the fact that Williamson made a conscious and strong effort to put his best foot forward, even with something at simple as ironing his shirts every time before he wore them. Make sure you don’t lose focus of the details and realize hard work is just that, hard work and always shines through in any job.

  1. Belief matters

“To believe Coke is to drink it”

Williamson also made another strong point here that is extremely relevant during this time in our society that our beliefs do matter and people notice them. Williamson, for example, doesn’t eat at places where Coke’s competitors are served. It’s not that he may not like that restaurant, it’s the fact that he so strongly believes in Coke and his company that he supports them in all areas of life and represents his beliefs in all areas of life.

  1. Question the impossible

With this lesson, Williamson shared the story of how in the past it was thought impossible to run a mile under four minutes. Yet one day, someone did it. It was believed impossible because no one had done it, not because it was truly impossible. Don’t be afraid to try something new, question what’s out there, and defy the odds.

  1. Hold out for both marshmallows

-Don’t settle

-Be as modern and timeless as you can be

-Write well, compellingly, convincingly

-“I want the first sentence to make me want to read the second”

The four points above speak to this lesson perfectly and highlight key takeaways Williamson wanted us to have. The point of this lesson is don’t settle right away or for “just one marshmallow,” hold out for what else could be in store or “for both marshmallows.” He covered the skill of writing in this lesson as well and emphasized its importance in the PR field.


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