Meet the PRSA New Pros Section Founder: Mary Beth West

New Pros Founder

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.

 

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.

Twitter Chat Recap: Let’s Talk About PRSA and You

PRSA Twitter Chat

Twitter Chat Recap: Let’s Talk About PRSA and You
By: Emma Finkbeiner, PRSSA Immediate Past President

Last week, PRSA New Professionals co-hosted a lively Twitter chat with PRSSA, engaging both new professionals and PRSSA members in a conversation about the transition from student to professional. Check out some of the highlights from the chat below.

@PRSSANational: Let’s kick off the chat with a question for everyone. How did you discover public relations?
https://twitter.com/PRSSANational/status/996556588503609345

@OFlynn_Emily: A1: My mom is a marketing manager in the healthcare industry. When I was in high school, she told me that she thought I’d thrive in the public relations field. Now I’m entering my senior year of college in a major I’m so passionate about! #HappyMothersDay #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/OFlynn_Emily/status/996557556595281921

@nicole_graney: A1 #PRSSA: I discovered PR with the help of a lovely mentor, @cmwooll, who took me under her wing as a high school student and showed me how I can use my writing to tell stories. She’s been helping me tell them ever since!
https://twitter.com/nicole_graney/status/996557803870441472

@robyn_rl: A1: Accidentally! My first job was at a bar/restaurant in my hometown & they decided they needed some marketing things designed & some outreach done to local organizations & media. So I volunteered & loved it #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/robyn_rl/status/996557337065377792

@PRSANewPros: New Pros: What are some of the benefits of becoming a PRSA Associate Member and joining the PRSA New Professionals Section?
https://twitter.com/PRSANewPros/status/996558349746483202

@GregRokisky: It’s such an affordable rate, it’s perfect to test the waters in the #PRSA universe…and you’ll find there’s no turning back because you’ll meet just the most wonderful colleagues, friends, mentors and people who just get you // #PRSSA #NPPRSA
https://twitter.com/GregRokisky/status/996559086861934592

@Gemrick: My favorite benefits of joining @PRSA is access to an extensive job board, and the MyPRSA and New Pros community forums that connect you to everyone in PRSA. You can ask questions, seek advice, and get help from peers and experts! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/Gemrick/status/996559444908572672

@citygirlhanna: The greatest advantage, to me, is being able to bounce ideas off my peers. While having mentors is important, it can be very helpful early in your career to chat with those at your same level about their experiences, as all companies and industries are so different. #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/citygirlhanna/status/996559697112129537

@PRSSANational: Students: What are some of the challenges you’re facing or concerns you have as you prepare for the transition from student to professional?
https://twitter.com/PRSSANational/status/996560118438400001

@bridgetmurtha_: A3: Personally, I have learned so much in all my classes as a student but I am nervous about applying what I have learned about the field when becoming a professional. Overall, practice makes perfect & in order to grow within PR, I will have to try! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/bridgetmurtha_/status/996560664926842880

@adcook22: A3: How to continue setting achievable goals at the start of your career! “Get a job”, “graduate” or “work in x area” of PR were almost automatic as undergrads, but starting your career is a path that’s much more personalized  #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/adcook22/status/996561139625615360

@Marissa_218: As I enter my senior year of undergrad, I am confident in my PR abilities but the job search/find process is very intimidating! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/Marissa_218/status/996560671277043712

@PRSANewPros: New Pros: How did PRSA and the New Professionals Section help you smoothly transition from student to professional?
https://twitter.com/PRSANewPros/status/996561872718528514

@KayAnnePR: NP Answer: One of the greatest benefits of joining @PRSA for me is that I was able to continue the relationships I made in #PRSSA.
https://twitter.com/KayAnnePR/status/996562926701043713

@efink101: It provided me with a network of peers that are going through the same things as me, so we can relate, but also a network of mentors who want to lift up new professionals. It kept me engaged in the profession beyond my job. #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/efink101/status/996563796377432070

@Gemrick: I can confidently say that @PRSA and New Pros helped my transition feel seamless. During my last year of undergrad, I was heavily involved with my local PRSA chapter, and attended as many events as possible. (Come through student pricing!) #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/Gemrick/status/996564005882867714

@PRSSANational: Students: How could PRSA and the New Professionals best assist you in your transition to the profession and the professional Society?
https://twitter.com/PRSSANational/status/996563682208501760

@KEW_photo: Any help is needed and appreciated!  I loved @PRSAChicagoYPN event with the recruiters this was really eye opening that it is important to work with professionals who specialize in the job hunt #prssa
https://twitter.com/KEW_photo/status/996564406145204224

@nicole_tobias32: I think having a new professionals mixer hosted by your local PRSA Chapter would be a great way to connect with others who are in the same boat with you! Especially if someone has moved from out of state to work in your area! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/nicole_tobias32/status/996564589222428672

@AllisonMellor: I would love to see local #PRSA representatives at #PRSSA chapter meetings! This would be the perfect time to hear more about membership benefits and new industry trends.
https://twitter.com/AllisonMellor/status/996565848566386688

@PRSANewPros: New Pros: What are the best ways to get involved when first joining a local PRSA Chapter?
https://twitter.com/PRSANewPros/status/996565396114300929

@KirkHazlett: Not exactly a “New” Pro, but…get involved! Volunteer to serve on a committee. Help with event promotion or at the registration table. Be there. Be seen. Become a resource. @CCPRSA @USFPRSSA @utprssa @PRSATampaBay #prssa
https://twitter.com/KirkHazlett/status/996565781885411328

@GregRokisky: Ask! I met with a few local board members I’d developed relationships with and others I didn’t yet know and, it turned out, there was a need for a chair for the @PACEAwards—our local awards! No one else wanted it, so I said yes. Even as a new pro, you have skills! #PRSSA #NPPRSA
https://twitter.com/GregRokisky/status/996566119103246336

@efink101: 1) See if there is a Young Professionals Network. 2) See if there are any committees or subcommittees you can join and help out with. 3) Offer to be a liaison to the #PRSA Chapter’s #PRSSA Sponsor Chapter(s).
https://twitter.com/efink101/status/996566487572893701

@PRSSANational: Students: What other questions do you have about joining PRSA, the New Professionals Section or launching your career?
https://twitter.com/PRSSANational/status/996567213044895748

@EmilyZekonis: If you could go back in time and take one class you missed out on to help you in your PR career what would it be? #prssa
https://twitter.com/EmilyZekonis/status/996567261447114752

@alyssamurt: As an upcoming senior, I think it is always beneficial to hear how new (and old!) pros got their first job. Any tips are much appreciated! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/alyssamurt/status/996567487281090562

@Ashleigh_K_W: What certifications or hard technical skills could students learn to gain an edge? We know writing is a must, but are there any programs we should be studying? Muckrack? Sysomos? #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/Ashleigh_K_W/status/996568287390715904

@ambewelch: Some of us new grads don’t have jobs or internships lined up fresh out of college, what advice for new pros that are struggling to find employment? How should they stay motivated through their job search?  #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/ambewelch/status/996569255968690176

@PRSANewPros: New Pros: What is your best post-grad tip for success during your first year as a new professional?
https://twitter.com/PRSANewPros/status/996568919434547200

@JaCeyLynn_Y: Work hard and try to make a name for yourself. If you see an opportunity, don’t hesitate to take it. Also, don’t forget your organization skills you acquired in school. #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/JaCeyLynn_Y/status/996569597431156736

@sarahgdougherty: Late to the party! I’d say take things in stride and have a good attitude. Things may not come naturally at first, but bringing a positive outlook to the table and being willing to work hard and try new things will set you up for success and make you a go-to on your team #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/sarahgdougherty/status/996570480340537345

@GregRokisky: There’s a small window, even as a new pro, where you have the free time. Take advantage and say yes to as much as you can handle and figure out where you fit—the more you move up the less time for those things you have! #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/GregRokisky/status/996569316819718144

@efink101: For me personally, be resilient and don’t take things personally is my best advice. Starting a new job and becoming a professional rather than a student is sometimes difficult, but if you work hard and show your value, you’ll be fine. #PRSSA
https://twitter.com/efink101/status/996570879080484865

Thank you to everyone who participated in this chat. The conversation doesn’t have to end here! Students, feel free to reach out to members of the PRSA New Professionals Section any time with questions about transitioning from PRSSA to PRSA. And don’t forget, when you transition from PRSSA to PRSA Associate Membership, you can join for free using code AM18.

Member Spotlight: Erica Hammett

Erica Hammett Header

Name: Erica Hammett
Position/Company: PR Account Executive, MP&A Digital & Advertising
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
Education: Public Relations, Virginia Tech
Social Media Handle: @ehammett16

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?
I attended community college for two years after high school, which gave me the opportunity to do my general college courses and take time to think about what I wanted to study at a four-year university. My mother is in human resources and public relations so I was familiar with the industry growing up. It was a natural fit and I’m so glad to pursuing a career in public relations.

How did you find internships/jobs?
I found all my internships by reaching out to local businesses close to home or at Virginia Tech. I interned at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and Virginia Tech YMCA. I wasn’t sure what type of public relations I wanted to do so I was willing to learn about various fields.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
Dealing with hurricanes Irma and Maria that hit the Caribbean. It was my first time handling a crisis. Many of our clients were affected so for the next few weeks we were in crisis mode, providing clear and accurate information. It was a good lesson that without communication and teamwork none of it would’ve been possible.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?
Communication is key. Team work is crucial. Everyone contributes a piece to the puzzle. Small or big, every piece helps with the end goal.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?
You have to chase after what you want, it’s not just going to fall into your lap.

Do you have any advice for future PR pros?
Speak up! If you don’t understand something, want to learn more or have questions, don’t stay silent.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?
Transitioning from PRSSA to PRSA is crucial for your career in public relations. Everyone is in the same situation as you, graduating college and beginning their career. Although you don’t frequently meet with people like you do in PRSSA, you have a community of people you can interact with through MyPRSA Communities, webinars and events. You always feel informed about opportunities and it’s comforting to know you have a group of people you can turn to for questions or advice.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting your career?
Research what type of work you want to do, see what jobs are out there. Learn as much as possible about similar career fields (business, marketing, and advertising). Whether it’s a minor, online courses or just staying updated about news/trends in those industries, it will help you tremendously.

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.

EricaHammett- headshot

 

 

 

Pro Bono Work: Professional Development for a Good Cause

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By Elizabeth McGlone

My pro bono work for nonprofits started with a rejection letter.

I had applied for a position at a PR agency but wasn’t selected. I was disappointed but also determined to learn from the experience. My first step was to get advice about how to become a better job candidate for future opportunities. A contact at that same PR agency suggested

pro bono work as a great way to build my own skillsets while also helping an organization that was probably short-handed when it came to PR.

It was one of those, “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments.

Finding the right organization.

I began researching nonprofits in my area that do work for causes I am passionate about. One non-profit in particular stood out to me, National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, Indiana, and with my top choice in mind, I reached out to the organization.

NAMI was thrilled that I was interested in doing pro bono work for them! In fact, my point of contact had been a PR volunteer who later transitioned into a full-time role in their communications department.

Getting the right experience.

In my first conversations with NAMI, I made it clear that I was looking for an opportunity to gain experience in areas of PR that I hadn’t previously had exposure to, namely media relations.

Fortunately, this fit with NAMI’s needs and my timing was perfect. Their annual mental health and criminal justice summit was approaching and they needed help writing promotional content and getting media coverage.

The summit has since concluded, but it was incredibly satisfying to see the results of my hard work. I was tasked with finding media coverage of the event and secured a local reporter who published an article on the mental health program discussed in the workshop. This is publicity and attention that the program may not have received otherwise.

Working through the challenges.

Although my pro bono work for NAMI was extremely rewarding, it hasn’t been without its obstacles.

One of the biggest challenges was nurturing the relationship with NAMI and meeting the deadlines and goals that I set for myself. This wasn’t easy with a full-time job, other volunteer commitments, and my own hobbies that I also had to balance. NAMI’s employees also had their own responsibilities and it was my responsibility to maintain open lines of communication. I had to be proactive and persistent, providing updates on my tasks and asking for new ones. Each week I blocked out time on my calendar to work on NAMI-related items so I could make steady progress and meet deadlines.

Overall, my experience was enjoyable and invaluable to my professional development. It is fulfilling to know that my expertise is helping a cause I am passionate about, and it’s exciting to watch my skillsets grow. I’m excited to see how this opportunity grows and changes, and also what other opportunities the future holds.

What do you do to volunteer your PR services to nonprofits? What is most important to you when you look for a volunteer opportunity?

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Elizabeth McGlone a native Hoosier and a Digital Marketing Coordinator at Pinnacle Solutions Incorporated. She is an active member of the PRSA Hoosier Chapter, serves as a committee member of the Professional Development Special Events/Networking Committee, and is a co-chair for the New Pros Committee. In her spare time, Elizabeth does pro bono PR work for local nonprofits, including NAMI and Phi Beta Kappa Alpha Association of Indiana, and also enjoys biking and backpacking. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.