Thanking Your Mentors


Recently, I heard Ohio senator Nina Turner say something that really resonated with me: “The creator of this great universe has given us two hands: one to reach forward and one to reach back, lifting as we climb.” I can’t think of a better metaphor for the underrated super power of a mentor, someone who lifts up others while forging ahead. Mentors come in all kinds of packaging: friends, teachers, coaches, peers, bosses. Some mentors volunteer for the task, while others grow into the role naturally. In all cases, they’re invaluable for their perspective, advice, experience and confidence. As new professionals, many of us have benefited, and continue to rely on, relationships with our mentors. To all who have given the gift of mentorship, thank you!

Here’s what some of our members had to say about their mentors:



Alyssa Stafford is a member of PRSA Georgia and a communications specialist at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta.  She serves on the New Professionals executive committee as the mentoring chair. Alyssa is a graduate of Agnes Scott College and the University of Georgia. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

#ThrowbackThursday: Jo Ann LeSage Nelson, APR


Editor’s note: This is part of our monthly #ThrowbackThursday series, which features a prominent, successful PR pro taking a look back and sharing tips from his/her days as a new pro. Thanks for helping us out, Jo Ann!

This #ThrowbackThursday, we get to know Jo Ann LeSage Nelson, APR

Jo Ann LeSage Nelson May 2014

Question 1: What was your biggest challenge as young professional, and how did you overcome it?

I had the good fortune to have had a first boss who had been in the business for a long time and who was willing to teach me by example. He didn’t offer feedback often, however, and I came to understand that if I didn’t hear from him then I had to assume he approved of what I was doing.  As a young professional that was difficult for me for the first couple of years, but after having a conversation with him about his managerial style, it made more sense to me. I should have had the conversation sooner.

Question 2: How did you learn to network comfortably at large events like PRSA ICON?

I learned early on that showing an interest in what others are doing or thinking is a surefire way to get people to open up.  Ask questions, be curious and listen actively.

If you’re nervous about meeting new people, go into a networking event with two or three topics that you can talk about. Did you read an interesting news story today? Is there a community organization you are involved with that you want to tell others about? Did you learn something new and interesting about a client that you can share?  If you go into an event armed with some ideas it will help put you at ease.

As for large PRSA events… honestly, I think networking with other public relations professionals is easy!  Most of us like to talk a lot.

Question 3: When looking for potential employees, what young professional traits are most valuable to you?

I want to work with young professionals who are curious, creative and smart.  I firmly believe that a smart person can learn anything, even if at first the concept seems foreign or hard to grasp.  Having an intellectual curiosity goes a long way towards being successful in nearly any field, and that includes being curious about the world around you and what is happening in it.  Another trait that impresses me is a willingness to work hard, and long if necessary, to make sure something is done right.  And having personal and professional integrity is a must! (But don’t ignore the basics like strong writing skills.  You can’t be a successful public relations professional without them.)

Question 4: When did you get involved with PRSA, and what tips do you have on young professionals just joining for the first time?

In 1995 I joined a small group of professionals who were working to revitalize a dormant PRSA chapter here in New York’s Capital Region, and I’ve been involved ever since.  If you’re new to PRSA, volunteer for a committee or help out with an event.  Getting involved locally at the chapter board or committee level is the best way to get hooked on PRSA.  You’ll grow professionally through all the terrific resources and programs PRSA has to offer, meet some outstanding colleagues and make some lifetime friends.

Question 5: If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself during your first year on the job, what would you say?

I’d tell that 24 year-old starting her first public relations job that she shouldn’t doubt herself, that her instincts were often right on target.  As I said above, my boss didn’t offer a lot of feedback and so that sometimes led me to wonder if I was on the right track.  With more experience I gained more confidence and realized that I could handle any situation presented to me, as long as I did the appropriate research, asked the right questions and enlisted the help of people who had a stake in the matter.

More about Jo Ann:

Jo Ann LeSage Nelson, APR, vice president of client services for Pierce Communications, an Albany-based public relations/public affairs/crisis management firm, is responsible for strategic public relations and communications counseling for Pierce Communications clients.

Jo Ann is a member of the National Board of Directors of the Public Relations Society of America, serving a two-year term beginning January 2015. She is also a past Northeast District Chair of the PRSA, serving as the national association’s liaison to seven chapters in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. In 2010, she served as the co-chair of the Northeast District’s annual conference. Jo Ann is also a past president, Assembly delegate and accreditation chair of PRSA’s Capital Region chapter.

In November 2008, PRSA’s local chapter presented Jo Ann with the first Outstanding Public Relations Practitioner Award, given to a Capital Region public relations professional who has achieved exceptional success, displayed the highest ethics and is dedicated to serving the community and the profession.

Connect with Jo Ann on LinkedIn.

Start, Stop, Continue: Developing Strategies for Success as a New Pro


We’re two weeks into 2016, and PR pros are undoubtedly busy tackling the new year’s new campaigns and deadlines. Despite long to-do lists, the year’s beginning is also the perfect time for young public relations practitioners to assess their current performance and make a plan for professional development over the coming months.

The ”start, stop, continue” model offers an excellent blueprint for teams and individuals looking to identify strengths, weaknesses and areas for growth. Consider a few places where new pros can apply these principles in the new year:

START getting serious about social media

Young PR pros aren’t shy to boast their social media savvy, but is your knowledge beneficial in a business setting? Touting a strong Twitter following or high Klout score is unlikely to impress employers unless you can demonstrate the industry relevance of your influence.

Begin the new year by taking action to prove your social capabilities. Learn the ins and outs of pitching via social networks. Proactively engage with a key contact in your industry or tweet a journalist to let them know you enjoyed reading a recent piece they wrote. In short, be sure you’re taking steps to leverage Twitter and other social platforms as powerful professional networking tools.

STOP pointing out problems without a solution in mind

Offering feedback to company leadership can be one of the smartest career moves in the life of a young pro – or one of the worst. New professionals are able to offer fresh perspectives and bring to light issues that others have missed, but these efforts can backfire. Calling out the faults in your workplace without offering a potential solution will quickly earn you a reputation for complaining, a toxic trait in the eyes of managers.

In 2016, stop pointing out problems without having an alternative to offer. Even if your feedback isn’t implemented, the desire to improve your team or organization will be recognized. Instead of being seen as a critic, you’ll earn a reputation as an innovator and an advocate for your company’s continued success.

CONTINUE making strategic connections

In an era defined by always-on communications networks and a rapidly changing media landscape, PR pros who know how to build productive relationships will continue to prove their worth and find success.

Emails, calls and social media messages vying for journalists’ attention make it difficult for them to give every correspondence their full attention, but resourceful public relations professionals canstop-start-continue_square become an integral part of their network. However, this requires putting your immediate self-interest aside.

When you find a new journalist in your industry during the new year, introduce yourself and offer to meet for a few minutes (without pitching your client or company’s latest development in the next paragraph.) Take time to listen, ask questions and learn what they look for in a pitch. Then – and only then – offer opportunities for collaboration that may be a good fit.

When a journalist knows you respect their time and understand what they’re looking for, they’ll be receptive (even enthusiastic!) the next time they see your name in their inbox.

Of course, these are just a few things I’d like to start, stop, and continue this year. The list is far from complete, and this model can be applied widely to improve professional performance. What will your “start, stop, continue” list look like this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Derek Byrne is a New York-based public relations professional at Development Counsellors International and a 2015 graduate of Baylor University. Get in touch with Derek via LinkedIn or on Twitter (@Derek_Byrne).

Playing the PR Field: Keeping Your Career Options Open

Many of us approach looking for new opportunities as a necessity of job searching. We find a job, start off enthusiastically, become disappointed when it’s not everything we thought it would be, continue doing the job until we can’t anymore, and then desperately search for a new job. We repeat this vicious, frustrating cycle either because we only look for a new opportunity when we’re desperate for one, we don’t take the time to think about what we need or want in a career, or we don’t feel that turning down a job is an option.

new pros should keep an open mind and an eye peeled for any new opportunitiesThis is absolutely the wrong way to approach finding a fulfilling career. Instead of pursuing opportunities only when we think we desperately need them, new pros should keep an open mind and eyes peeled for any new opportunities, no matter how satisfying their current position may be.

Actively looking around for what else is out there can help new pros decide what they want and don’t want in a career. Maybe there’s a great opportunity for a position with a well-known company that sounds like a dream available. If you ignore it just because you’re pretty happy with the job you have, you could be left wondering for the rest of your career if it was the one that got away. If you seek out an informational interview, you could find that it’s an opportunity you can’t pass up, that it’s not right for you—but is a great company—or that it’s just not a good fit at all. Early on in your career, learning more about a company or type of position is a great way to figure out what exactly you’re interested in and what you might like to explore more in-depth.

Keeping your options open also keeps you in control of your career. If you’re keeping an eye out for what else you could be doing, you can be the one to decide how long you’ll stay at a particular job—as long as your ‘looking’ is not negatively affecting performance in your current position. If you can juggle the job search while keeping up daily responsibilities, you can then decide if you want to keep learning and growing where you are or if you want to take a chance on another opportunity to grow your career. Being in the driver’s seat of your career is always a good place to be!

New opportunities often mean meeting new people, too. As you’re looking around at what else is available, you’re bound to make new connections with people you may not have met otherwise. Use informational meetings and events through professional organizations as a way to not only learn about new opportunities but to also build your network and strengthen your relationships. Actively reaching out to your network, new and old, will keep you the the front of  their minds for any opportunities that might come end up in their emails.

While you’re at the top of new connections’ minds, you should also be keeping your skills fresh. Look at what skills open positions are looking for and make sure that you’re keeping up with the latest trends and skills. Making sure that you’ve brushed up on the skills employers are looking for can go a long way in helping you land the perfect position.

What else can you do to stay open to opportunities and land your dream job?

Write a call-to-action into your LinkedIn summary.

It can be as simple as a quick line saying that you welcome emails regarding new opportunities. Keep it short and sweet and let people know the best way to contact you.

Make a list of your dream employers & contact them.

Find connections at these companies and ask for an informational interview to learn more about the company, its culture and any relevant opportunities. Even if there’s not an opening at that time, meeting with and keeping in touch with a contact or two inside will keep you at the top of their list when positions do open.

Set up informational interviews & meetings when possible.

If there are companies you know you’d like to work for, people you admire or colleagues whose advice you value, reach out to them. Set up informational interviews with the first two to learn more about what they do and what opportunities might be available. For those whose advice you trust, an informal meeting over coffee, drinks or brunch is a great chance to catch up and talk in a relaxed setting.

Let people know when & what you’re looking for.

Even if you’re not actively looking for a new job, letting people know that you are open to new opportunities gives you new sets of eyes and ears to be on the lookout. Share your resume with those you trust and ask that they share information of new openings with you. If you are looking for a new job, let as many people as you can know, while not jeopardizing your current position. Spread the word privately to close connections, rather than publicly where your current employer may see. 

Keep checking job postings.

Sometimes it can be fun to see what else is out there and what better way than checking job posting sites. If you want to make it even easier, sign up for weekly or monthly emails from PRSA Jobcenter, Indeed or any other job boards with specific keywords relating to what you’re looking for and where.

RoRobyn Rudish-Laning (1)byn Rudish-Laning is a member of PRSA SC and communications coordinator for the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness. Robyn is also a member of the New Professionals executive committee. She is a graduate of Duquesne University and is currently located in Columbia, SC. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter or read her PR-focused blog.


3 Ways to Avoid ‘The Grind’ in 2016

3 Ways to Avoid 'The Grind' in 2016People are creatures of habit, and as such, it’s easy to have the “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” attitude. But the truth is, that attitude doesn’t foster growth. In order to stand out and avoid “the grind” at work, new PR pros need to think creatively and pursue opportunities to improve. Here are a few simple things you can do to get started in 2016:

Develop, Sharpen and Show Off Other Skills

If you’re working in PR, there’s a good chance that your job is writing-intensive in one way or another. I think writing’s great – in fact, I’m doing it right now for fun – but there are so many additional skills you can develop to make yourself a more versatile and valuable employee. For example, if you have a working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, you should look for opportunities at work to utilize that. Talk with your supervisor and explore ways to not only develop new skills, but also use and improve the ones you already have.

Proactively Search for Ways to Improve the Company

New PR pros may be handed a few projects that really allow them to take ownership. It feels great to lead a project or two, but don’t limit yourself. Really take a look around and consider what else within the company could be improved. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your thoughts with your team. Sharing these thoughts provides great opportunities to show your value and make meaningful contributions.

Find a Mentor

A little guidance from someone who has been there, done that as a PR pro is often helpful. A mentor is someone you can brainstorm with; someone who is both a role model and a professional friend. Establishing this relationship with someone who has more professional experience is hugely beneficial. You’ll have their guidance and advice on ways that you can stand out, put your best foot forward and overcome the challenges you encounter in the workplace.

With 2015 wrapping up already (I know, I can’t believe it either), now is a great time to switch up your professional game plan and make some positive changes. Getting comfortable and sticking to a routine feels safe because you know what to expect, but you will find that it’s far more valuable to step outside your comfort zone a bit. Go for it and make 2016 your best year yet as a PR pro!  

Jeff-200x300Jeff Adkins is a public relations associate for Henry Ford Hospital and Health Network in Detroit, Michigan. An active member of PRSA Detroit, Jeff enjoys connecting with fellow PR pros and seeking out new professional experiences. He obtained his Bachelor’s in Public Relations in 2014 from Wayne State University (WSU), where he was a member of the WSU PRSSA executive board and a peer mentor for students entering the PR program. In his free time, Jeff enjoys being active outdoors and volunteers as a PR officer with Portal Paranormal Society. Feel free to connect with him on Twitterand LinkedIn.