Member Spotlight: Rachel Brown

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Name: Rachel Brown
Position/Company: Public Relations Specialist, Albany State University
Location: Albany, Ga
Education: Public Relations and Integrated Media double major, Columbus State University
Social Media Handle: @rachelbrownpr

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?
My sophomore year of college as an Integrated Media major, I had to take Introduction to Public Relations. I fell in love with the field while learning about tactics and strategy to help people or brands come together.

How did you find internships/jobs?
I had three internships and I found them thought the Department of Communication at Columbus State. Business’s in the area reach out to departments and professors all the time and it is so smart to ask your college about what is available.

As for jobs, PRSA offers a job search that is easy to use and the options are endless.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
Going from a small firm working in tourism to higher education, I had to really change my focus. The audience got bigger, the communication channels changed and I had to learn how to balance fun and corporate strategies.

I read blogs and did research on higher education public relations to understand what other universities are doing and how I could makes positive changes within my department. Also, immersing myself into the history and culture. That is important in our field because we are speaking for that brand.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?
Set objectives and evaluate everything. You won’t be able to know how well something is working if you are not measuring the results.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?
It is better to undersell and over perform than to oversell and under perform.

Do you have any advice for future PR pros?
Get a mentor.  Never stop learning: There are countless ways to learn after you graduate with webinars, text books, blogs, twitter chats and more! Intern in different settings before you choose what type of company you would like work at. Never post on social about what’s trending until you have done the proper research. Get an AP Style Guide and study it like a religion.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?
My favorite benefit of PRSA is the conferences. It’s the perfect way to network and learn. Use the tools that PRSA has available to you to further your professional development.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting your career?
Project management and organization skills are a must. There are times I am working on over 30 projects at once, whether they are big or small and without organization the little things get lost in the details. The little things are important.

Tell us a little-known fact about yourself.
I name my animals after Disney Characters.

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Member Spotlight: Emma Finkbeiner

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Name: Emma Finkbeiner
Position/Company: Integrated Marketing Coordinator, Chicago Cubs
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Education: Public Relations & Journalism, BS, Northern Michigan University
Public Relations & Advertising, MA, DePaul University
Social Media Handle: @efink101

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?
My freshman year of college I declared a communications major. I enjoyed my classes but was feeling unsure of what a career with a communications degree looked like. My adviser at NMU suggested I consider switching to pubic relations and showed me the variety of career paths it offered. Not only that, he introduced me to PRSSA as well, which helped me further understand the profession, and I got involved right away.

How did you find internships/jobs?
Primarily through networking. By getting involved in PRSSA and taking on leadership roles, I was able to travel to events all over the country and meet so many people. I would say all of my internships and jobs have been touched in some way by a connection I made through PRSSA, whether this person wrote me a recommendation, worked for the organization or just told me about the opportunity.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge so far was moving into a marketing function with my background being primarily public relations and journalism. However, my master’s degree helped me to grow my knowledge while I started this position and my skills were definitely transferrable. I also wasn’t afraid to ask a lot of questions and took time to expand my skillset by diving in when opportunities to work on something I wasn’t yet an expert in presented themselves.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?
Both my classes and professional experience taught me how to work in teams and how to become a creative problem solver. My classes were primarily project based, allowing me to work with teams of fellow students to take a client challenge and turn it into an opportunity. In my professional experience, I have always collaborated with others.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?
Not to take things personally, to be resilient and to never stop learning.

Do you have any advice for future PR pros?
I value hard work tremendously and have always been willing to go the extra mile, but work-life balance is so important. Bring your best self to work every day, but remember that you are a human being and take time to do things in your personal life that you enjoy.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?
The supportive network of professionals. Most of my mentors I met through PRSA and I also really value all of the things I have learned from my peers in the New Pros section. Whether you’re looking for a new job, navigating the transition from student to professional or are just looking for a group of like-minded people, PRSA and PRSA New Pros provides that and so much more.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting your career?
I really only wish I had known about this industry sooner! I loved participating in high school outreach sessions when I was a member of PRSSA because I saw so many students’ faces light up when they were introduced to the public relations profession. Continuing to educate students in high school that this career path is an option is so important so that they can choose from schools with great programs that have PRSSA chapters, which allow them to get involved in their professional development on a deeper level.

Tell us a little-known fact about yourself.
I’m not sure if I would call this a “little-known” fact, but I am absolutely obsessed with my 2-year-old pitbull Addison. She even has her own Instagram account – @addisonbully!
If you are interested in being featured, or interested in nominating someone to be featured as a part of our #MemberSpotlight, please complete the following form.

 

Meet the PRSA New Pros Section Founder: Mary Beth West

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Q&A with PRSA New Pros Section Founder, Mary Beth West, APR, Fellow PRSA

PRSA’s New Professionals section is a diverse group of individuals in the first five years of their career, working in public relations and communications across industries. The New Pros section is one of PRSA’s 14 professional interest sections, or communities focused on a specific area of expertise. It makes sense now to cater programming to new pros, but that wasn’t always the case. Read on for a Q&A with our section’s founder, Mary Beth West, APR, Fellow PRSA, on the history of PRSA New Pros!

Tell us about yourself — Where did you go to school and how did you begin your career as a new professional?

A lifelong Tennessean, I attended the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, graduating in public relations in 1994. My career path actually began earlier with internships in public relations agencies starting when I was 18 years old and leading me to work opportunities while a student in Knoxville, Nashville and New York.  Being heavily involved in PRSSA provided my launching pad as well. I served as national public relations director for PRSSA in 1993-94 and developed so many close friendships and professional connections that continue to this day.

What is the history of the New Pros Section and what made you found the section for PRSA?

In 2001, when I was 29 years old, I was elected to a two-year term on the PRSA National Board. One of my friends who had served as PRSSA National President a few years after I graduated was Gail Liebl (now Gail Van Cleaf, APR).  Gail and I both enjoyed such a pleasant working relationship with the late Betsy Ann Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA – the first woman who ever served as president of PRSA and widely known as “the godmother of PRSSA.”

Gail and I had both voiced interest in creating a new community of professionals within PRSA to help PRSSA students bridge to PRSA membership more seamlessly – beyond just the Associate Member program, which was already in place. Based on ideas we had each voiced to her, Betsy encouraged Gail and me to work together. So we did.  We pitched the idea to the PRSA National Board (then chaired by Reed Byrum, APR, Fellow PRSA) of having a new stand-alone section called “New Professionals,” and it was accepted . . . initially not as a professional interest section of PRSA (which it is today), but as a “group,” during a sort of pilot program to make sure the initiative found an audience and gained momentum.

One of the aspects we insisted on right away was the name “New Professionals” as opposed to “Young Professionals.”  The latter name option seemed too restrictive, because we wanted the group to welcome anyone new to the profession, even if they were entering public relations mid-career or from a nontraditional path.

Once we received the green light from the National Board, we created a leadership structure, programming platform and content areas that would help position this new community with multiple member benefits. We helped build a content area on the PRSA national website for New Professionals to live online, and we directly recruited the membership team from graduating or recently graduated PRSSA students whom we knew.  With the help of staff leaders like Jeneen Garcia and others, the group launched around 2003, later achieving full section status, based on the fact that it had grown to one of the largest “groups” / sections within PRSA, in just a number of years.

What were your biggest accomplishments for the section?

Birthing it! 😊 First, just Gail’s and my collaboration of creating something new from the ground-up . . . it felt rather entrepreneurial but also like we were helping meet a clear, discernible need – one that had been around for quite a long time within PRSA but had remained unmet.

As for myself, when I had started out as a new pro in 1994 – trying to attend local chapter meetings and developing a new local network (inclusive of many long-time professionals who had been in the business many years) – I didn’t always feel directly included or integrated with the chapter.  Everyone else already seemed to know each other, and I was the odd-girl-out. That’s a very common feeling to experience for any new professionals initially embarking on a career. So the biggest accomplishment for the section, in my view, was creating that community where everyone was in the same boat, all starting out fresh with their career path and needing some common advice, tools and resources to build confidence and a more positive launching point for their careers, with PRSA as a center point that could carry them through, long-term.

I understand you have many PRSSA/PRSA “friendships” — could you speak to the value of those connections as it relates to being a member of the Society?

There are practically no words equal to describing the value of these people in my life. My PRSSA alumni buddies and I – not just from UT but from PRSSA chapters across the country in the early 1990s – share a bond from starting out in the national student organization, with so many memories from going to conferences and regional events together and going through that time in our lives when everything was new, exciting, scary, hopeful, intimidating, overwhelming, thrilling, confusing . . . all those descriptors and more. My lifelong mentors like David Bicofsky, APR, Fellow PRSA, Dwayne Summar, APR, Fellow PRSA and Susan Hart, APR, Fellow PRSA, taught me about the type of grit, determination and brand of expertise required to become the professional I ultimately wanted to be (and that I’m still working on becoming . . . it’s a journey!).

What advice do you have for New Pros today?

I participated this year in the Leadership Knoxville program in my local community recently, and the foundation of its entire curriculum focuses on the concept of servant-leadership, immortalized in the book of the same name by Robert Greenleaf. As I look back on it, PRSSA was my first true experience in servant-leadership, and PRSA has been my ongoing, lifelong experience (and sometimes experiment) in it as well.  My advice for New Pros is to view their ladder of career progression through the lens of servant-leadership . . . that only by serving others and building the relationships that are inherent to acts of genuine contribution will we accomplish our highest callings and potential.

Any closing thoughts to share?

As you progress in your career and in life, bear in mind that doing the right thing in alignment with your professional values and those that PRSA espouses doesn’t necessarily mean that other people will always like you. In fact, buckle your seatbelt! The truth of the matter is that unwavering values present a direct threat to many people, particularly in disturbing a status-quo that many people build their worlds around and will fight tooth-and-nail to keep you from tinkering with it . . . even if the status-quo is ultimately providing detrimental to all concerned.  So with that said, true leadership isn’t a popularity contest, although it gets wrongly equated to that type of lowest-common-denominator thinking, quite frequently. Leadership makes the biggest impact with vision as its oxygen and principle as its unfaltering navigation. It’s not easy, and many times, it’s not fun; but the end results can yield a level of meaning to your life like no other.

CaptureMary Beth West, APR, Fellow PRSA, sold her public relations firm in January 2018 after 15 years in business working with such clients as Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority and a range culture-change initiatives to advance community-based educational achievement. She and her husband live in Maryville, Tennessee, located in the Greater Knoxville area, with their daughters Elizabeth, 15, Maggie, 13 and Rachel, 8. Connect with her on Twitter @marybethwest. Want to learn more from Mary Beth? Register now for the first-ever PRSA New Pros Summit, to be held in NYC on August 9, 2018 for access to her keynote, “Three Essential Cs of Public Relations Career Progression: Competence, Confidence and Clout.

This Q&A was compiled by Hanna Porterfield, 2018 Chair of PRSA’s New Professionals Section. Based in Chicago, but frequently on an airplane, she is an account manager at NYC-headquartered Development Counsellors International. Hanna is a graduate of Michigan State University. Connect with her on Twitter @citygirlhanna.

 

Member Monday: Greg Rokisky

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Name: Greg Rokisky
Position/Company: Marketing Manager, Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB)
PR/Social Media Freelancer
Location: Lansing, Michigan
Education: Michigan State University
Social Media Handle: @GregRokisky

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?
I usually tell people I literally stumbled into PR but, the truth is, I think fate played a much bigger role than I let on. I always loved writing and storytelling in grade school and had a penchant for being heavily involved with student government. After becoming my residence hall’s president my sophomore year, I got involved with MSU’s campus wide Residence Halls Association executive board. I wound up the Director of PR and, shortly after, I landed my first official PR internship. The rest started to fall into place from there.

How did you find internships/jobs?
My curiosity is simultaneously my biggest strength and weakness. I always look for things that interest me in places that might not be where others are looking. I worked for the on-campus food service chain at MSU, Sparty’s. After doing my time frying chicken tenders and flipping burgers in one of the sites within the residence halls, I applied for an HR role that eventually transformed into a communications role. When it came to most of my jobs, they came about based on where I wanted to grow my skills—one was at the company I was interning, the next a full-time opportunity working remotely and my current role as a manager to broaden my traditional marketing and nonprofit experience. Be curious…you never know the answer if you don’t look around and ask questions.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
It’s one I’m still facing—I have unrealistic expectations to produce perfect results every time, both from myself and others. Perfect rarely happens. Sometimes, you won’t be even 60% happy with your work but it’s what you can do given deadlines, resources, time, etc. I just remind myself that sometimes I’ll outperform what I expected and others I’ll underperform and hopefully, in the end, they all balance each other out. It reminds me of a new book I just started, where the author suggests we stop trying to be well-balanced and, instead try to be well-lopsided people.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?
The most valuable things I’ve learned in life, professionally and personally, have come through doing. Therefore, it’s all about saying yes to as much as you can lopsidedly balance and put yourself in slightly uncomfortable positions throughout life…probably forever. I’m a huge proponent of learning and believe education, however you choose to define it, should be a lifelong process.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?
Relationships, sincere relationships, truly matter—and not only if you’re in PR. Being in PR certainly helps nail down the importance of relationships, but I can’t even count how many times my relationships have led to something. My freelance work has all come from relationships I’ve built. My PRSA involvement, locally and nationally, have come from my relationships. Jobs and recommendations have come from relationships. Some of the best memories, laughs, professional conversations have been had because of the time I’ve put into my relationships. Jobs don’t get us through tough times, people do; we should spend more time appreciating our relationships (makes note to self).

Do you have any advice for future PR pros?
Everything is becoming more and more integrated and data-heavy. Don’t be afraid of Excel.

Seriously…math and data are your friend.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?
It goes back to the relationships, in part, and also the opportunity to get your name out there. Not many industries can you begin your career and be able to join a group that allows you to contribute your insight to a national blog (insert shameless plug to write for PRSA New Pros blog, The Edge). That, paired with the opportunity to enjoy catered professional development and networking with other new professionals in your field going through similar struggles, wins, losses and the like is priceless in my book.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting your career?
That oftentimes trying to be what you think professional success should look and act like proves to be way less valuable and effective than embracing the magic of who you actually are.

Tell us a little-known fact about yourself.
My favorite existing animal are penguins; my favorite non-existing animal is a unicorn (although they exist in my heart). Despite having neither as a pet, I do love my dog Fitzgerald—named simultaneously after F. Scott Fitzgerald and President Fitzgerald Grant III from Scandal.
If you are interested in being featured, or interested in nominating someone to be featured as a part of our #MemberSpotlight, please complete the following form.

 

Catching Up with Past PRSA New Pros Leaders: Where they are today and their advice

Past New Pros Leaders

PRSA’s New Professionals section is a membership organization 1,100 people strong. And with a combined social media following of more than 15,000, it’s easy to tell there’s a network of New Pros “alumni” and supporters across the country. We recently caught up with some past-Chairs of the section to see how PRSA involvement has shaped their careers and where they are now.

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Sarah Siewert, 2011 New Pros Chair
Vice President, Ketchum — Chicago, Ill.

Leah Moon, 2012 New Pros Chair
Marketing Program Manager, Esko — Dayton, Ohio

Heather Sliwinski, 2014 New Pros Chair
Senior Account Director, Gravitate PR  — San Francisco, Calif.

Nick Lucido, 2015 New Pros Chair
Vice President, Global Practice Development, Edelman — Chicago, Ill.

Brian Price, 2017 New Pros Chair
Corporate Communications Manager, Starwood Retail Partners — Chicago, Ill.


What is a piece of advice you have for today’s new professionals?

Sarah: Build your network before you need it. By its nature the PR/marketing industry relies on relationships – from your first job offer to a client referral – take time to foster and build it starting in the classroom and volunteer positions.

Leah: Don’t be afraid to speak up. Give your opinion. Stand out.

Heather: So many learnings I’d want to pass on. First, say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, especially if it scares you. The biggest risks I’ve taken in my career have turned out to be the most rewarding. Second, be proactive, take chances and make the most of every experience you get.

Nick: Read more, subscribe to, and pay for good journalism. A deep understanding of business, government, media and non-profit organizations will make you a more informed counselor to your clients.

Brian: PRSA and New Pros offer many benefits to assist in building a career. From wide-angle industry perspective, developing mentors to tips on how to succeed everywhere from strategic thought to holding productive meetings. Those who are most successful seem to integrate that into their development on top of great effort where expected from supervisors, rather than a replacement for going the extra mile with daily production.

Sarah: In addition, maintain heart and hustle. No matter the role, assignment or client new pros who stand out most show up with passion, curiosity and a never-ending sense of urgency.

Any other closing thoughts or wisdom?

Sarah: Every opportunity in my career is rooted in a PRSA connection. It’s the best investment in your career to take time to volunteer and participate – don’t just be a name on a sign-in list.

Leah: Travel as much as you can. Experience new cultures, food, life.

Heather: Ask for what you’re worth and always negotiate (especially if you’re a woman and/or person of color). It’s hard, but you have to force yourself to do it.


Porterfield,Hanna_headshot2017This Q&A was compiled by Hanna Porterfield, 2018 Chair of PRSA’s New Professionals Section. Based in Chicago, but frequently on an airplane, she is an account manager at NYC-headquartered Development Counsellors International. Hanna is a graduate of Michigan State University. Connect with her on Twitter @citygirlhanna.