Mike Huckman smiling at camera.
Photo by Geoff Wood

Live and learn — then learn some more

After 27 years in the TV news game, Mike Huckman was looking for a change. He followed the advice of longtime friends who worked in public relations, and switched paths to corporate communications, specifically the health sciences sector.  

Huckman joined his first agency, MSL Global, in 2010. With the fresh territory came fresh challenges. Difficulties acclimating to new tasks such as handling client service, amassing billable hours and generating business had him wondering if the change was a good one. 

“I struggled, and almost threw in the towel,” said Huckman, who earned his bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from USC Annenberg in 1983. 

Fortunately, he stuck it out and found a mentor at the agency. Building success would call upon qualities he’d honed throughout his career: tenacity, the flexibility to embrace opportunity, the courage to face unease. And, perhaps most of all, the hunger to learn. 

“If you make a move, there should be a level of discomfort,” said Huckman, who lives in North Carolina with his husband. “There has to be that element of stretch. I’m 60, and as cliché as it sounds, I still learn new things on the job almost every day.”

This serves him in his current role as global practice leader for executive communications at Real Chemistry. He signed on with the company, which uses public relations and investor relations 

experts as well as proprietary data and analytics to change how the health care and life sciences sectors communicate, in 2016. 

“I love what I do,” he said. “My work elevates brilliant science and technology, and the relentless fight against disease.”

The skillset for working effectively in the life sciences came through his TV news work. 

After graduating from USC Annenberg, Huckman resolutely — and successfully — pursued an on-air position in Great Falls, Montana. From there, he was going places.

He persistently climbed markets to Billings, Montana, then Boise, Idaho, then Tucson, Arizona, and ultimately Detroit, where he was the lead reporter on the top late news broadcast for several years throughout the 1990s. He changed tracks to business news network CNBC in 2000, another opportunity to learn — and expand his professional toolbox.

“I didn’t know anything about business, the stock market or economics beyond supply and demand from my Econ 101 class at USC,” he said. “I took the job, and just persisted. I was like, ‘I’m going to crack the code.’” 

Serendipity reared its head when he was somewhat arbitrarily offered CNBC’s pharmaceutical beat in 2002. Learning as he went, he staked out a niche at the nexus of biotechnology and business. That thread links to his job at Real Chemistry advising health-sector leaders. He continues to speak truth to power — but only after listening.

“If you walk in and say ‘You need to be doing this, you need to be doing that,’ it’s just not going to work,” Huckman said. “You’ve got to meet them where they are and then bring them along.”

That principle is also behind the counsel he imparts. Executives in these deeply scientific fields often need to put aside insular jargon and alphabet-soup abbreviations to communicate biotechnology advances in a way that connects with people. 

“It comes down to this: Keep it simple and lead with empathy,” Huckman said.

In addition to his work with Real Chemistry (and making time for another passion, teaching a weekly spin class), he is committed to giving back to his alma mater. 

He recently completed a term on USC Annenberg’s Alumni Advisory Board, and he frequently mentors students. He also donates to the USC Annenberg Student Emergency Aid Fund and the USC Lambda LGBT Alumni Association. 

“I love the school,” said the former Trojan Marching Band member. “I love everything about USC, and I want to help in any way I can.”