By: Taylor Fleck
We hear it a million times throughout our time in the education system- step outside your comfort zone. As millennials, we are held to the highest standards in regards to becoming successful; we are constantly told to grasp every opportunity we are offered to make the most of our time in college. So, when the opportunity to go to the PRSSA National Conference in Atlanta came up, I took a deep breath and dove in.
Having only been in GVPRSSA for a semester, I was hesitant to spend the money and travel with other PR students whom I barely knew. However, I somehow found myself on a flight to Atlanta. Walking into the conference, I had no idea what to expect. Being surrounded by so many fellow PR students who had the same drive and passion as me only heightened my excitement for the weekend.
There were endless opportunities to network with not only fellow PRSSA students, but also members of PRSA, who were also in attendance. When I put my business cards away after an overwhelming attempt to hand them out, I was truly able to appreciate being surrounded by incredible professionals and speakers.
Reflecting back, here are my key PRSSANC takeaways:
1. Authenticity is crucial.
One of the most important lessons that seemed to be stressed over and over again this week was that you have to be yourself to reach your maximum potential. As young professionals, we may not know exactly what field we want to go into. Trying to bend ourselves to better fit into a certain niche of PR simply because we think it will look the best on our resumes can (and will) end up screwing us over in the long run. Likewise, pretending to be passionate about a brand or skill simply to get a job will not get us anywhere. If you’re quirky, be quirky. If you have tattoos, let them show. We need to join companies and agencies that appreciate us for who we are, and shouldn’t mold ourselves into anything other than what we are simply to get a job.
2. Your skills matter more than your brand.
When going into an interview, we often make the mistake of bragging about all the wrong things. In this day and age, we often correlate creative PR with everything social media-related. While your number of Twitter followers and blog popularity are important aspects, an employer is looking for more than just how many LinkedIn connections you have. As Heather Whaling, President at Geben Communication, explained, we need to keep it simple:
“You need to go into an interview, not simply focused on your personal brand, but on your skills. Employers are hiring you to get the job done at the end of the day, and showcasing your writing and speaking skills should always be first priority. Bring writing samples, bring creative campaign examples; let your work do the talking, because odds are the employer has already hard core stalked you on social media.”
3. The pitch is your best friend.
One of the first things we learn as PR professionals is how to write a press release. Without a good understanding of the proper way to pitch ideas, we have nothing. Dr. Joseph V.Trahan III of Trahan and Associates laid out the key points to the perfect pitch.
- Who are they? (What do they look like?)
- Know your audience!
- You must be unique and different
- Make sure to not only pitch, but tell a story
- Use communication channels that matter when pitching your ideas
- Ask yourself what makes you credible? Your ethics are all you have!
- Your copy must be simple!
- Make no spelling and grammar errors, and always have a clearly defined purpose.
Breaking a pitch down to these subgroups makes it easier for us to not only make sure we have a good pitch, but that we are getting our ideas across fully and efficiently.
4. Time Zones are irrelevant.
A professional development session I attended about global PR really opened my eyes to the possibility of working outside of the U.S. The world never stops turning and businesses never stop needing, therefore public relations never stops working. During this session, we learned that new statistics are projecting that underdeveloped countries are growing more powerful in the consumer markets over the next 10 years, meaning their main consumers will be younger. This means that the majority of consumers within the next years will be first-time consumers, and therefore have not developed brand loyalty.
For public relations professionals, this is a race against the clock to gain brand loyalty and business from so many customers. When dealing with any sort of communications, time is money. Just because we are asleep in America, doesn’t mean our client in Switzerland isn’t in the midst of a newly developed crisis. As professionals, we need to be ready to handle issues or make phone calls no matter what time of day or night it is. Flexibility is quickly becoming one of the most sought after skills for a public relations person.
5. You can’t be afraid of the future.
This was one of the most helpful things I took away from the conference. Before going to Atlanta, I felt pretty confident in my credentials and knowledge of public relations. Though, I was astounded to find out the number of my fellow students who already had multiple internships and vast experience under their belts. Suddenly, I began to feel like I was hopeless in ever gaining a PR career. Luckily, it only took a few sessions for me to realize that everybody starts somewhere.
The best thing we can do is take a risk. Don’t be afraid to walk up to the CEO of a company and introduce yourself, don’t be afraid to ask a professor or business professional to be your mentor, and certainly don’t be afraid to print out business cards and awkwardly force fellow PR students to take them; making connections is the best way to get your foot in the door.
The most successful of PR professionals were all in our shoes at one time. While snagging our dream jobs may seem so far away now, as we work minimum wage jobs, and spend countless hours doing hypothetical client campaigns for class, we are one step closer each day to achieving our dream PR positions!
Taylor Fleck is a currently a junior at Grand Valley State University studying Advertising and Public Relations, with an emphasis in Public Relations. Taylor is a member of Grand Valley's PRSSA chapter, as well as an active member of her sorority, Phi Sigma Sigma. She is a writing enthusiast with a passion for all things creative, and ice cream.