New Year, New Pros

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Each year, the turning of the calendar marks a time of transition for the New Professionals Section. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, the incoming and outgoing committee chairs begin the transition with a flurry of calls, messages and documents exchanged. And then we set off to plan.

When I started digging in to planning back in September, I found there was a lot I didn’t know. Despite being a member of the Section for four years and on the Exec Committee for three, I had a hard time articulating what our goals were. As a committee, we had always done a pretty good job of executing on our individual goals, but we didn’t have a strategic plan or overall goals guiding our work.

As I began the process of meeting with current committee members to select the 2019 Executive Committee, I heard a lot of the same struggles – members weren’t sure what we were working towards or didn’t feel like we had a clear mission or goals to guide us – and decided that we needed a strategic plan. With guidance from other sections and groups, as well as other more experienced professionals, I began to craft a strategic plan for our New Professionals Section with three clear goals that our committee would work toward in 2019.

They are:

  1. Provide valuable tools and resources for professional development to our members;
  2. Position our Section and our members as thought leaders; and
  3. Clearly demonstrate the value of being a PRSA and New Pros member.

Why these three goals? Well, there are a few reasons. First, they are inline with PRSA’s Strategic Plan. Second, they address feedback we’ve heard from members over the past couple of years and are speak to our mission and vision for the Section – to serve members by helping them grow professionally. That is, after all, why we join professional organizations, right?

When it comes to professional development, the needs of new professionals vary a bit from those of mid-level and experienced practitioners. While leadership training is great, and can often be useful, many of us are working towards the next promotion or the next job, and trying to figure out what skills and knowledge we need to have to get there. Maybe we don’t see ourselves as leaders yet because we’re not sure we know the things we need to know or are asking the right questions.

There are two things new pros seem to need to develop professionally – access to opportunities that provide actionable resources they can use pretty much immediately and guidance. This year, we’re going to tackle both.

Through a partnership with PRSA’s College of Fellows, we will make mentoring more accessible to new professionals. Mentors are crucial to professional development and the mentor/mentee relationship is unique. Experienced professionals often have a wealth of knowledge they’re more than happy to share with aspiring and new professionals and their guidance on navigating through career obstacles is invaluable. Mentoring is a two-way relationship, though, and nurturing and maintaining that relationship may not always come naturally. As we partner with the College of Fellows, we’ll explore not only the benefits of having and being a mentor, but what really goes into the relationship, what to expect and how it changes over the course of your career.

Since January is National Mentoring Month, we decided to dive right in and begin the conversation with a joint webinar on Jan. 31 at 3 p.m. ET. This webinar,Supercharge your career: How finding or being a mentor can transform your professional development,” is only available to members of the New Professionals Section and the College of Fellows and will feature two mentor-mentee pairs who will share the ins and outs for fostering a mutually beneficial mentoring relationship. We hope you’ll join us for this discussion.

Actionable resources, like checklists, templates and guides, are something we’ll be working on bringing to our professional development opportunities this year, starting with our Summits.

Last year, we hosted our first in-person networking and learning summit, “Careers in Progress” in New York City. The event was a success, bringing together new professionals from across the country and industry professionals to talk about practical tactics and insights. This year, we’re expanding our summits to three different locations over the course of the year – Silicon Valley, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. In addition to sessions on tactics and trends, we’ll be adding an afternoon workshop to help attendees master a skill. We’re still working on planning each of these events, so keep an eye out for an announcement on dates and programs for each.

“Thought leader” may not be the first word you’d use to describe yourself as a new professional, but our members are skilled in many areas and we want to help showcase these talents. Our blog, The Edge, is an excellent platform for sharing information, tips and ideas. We encourage all members to flex your skills by writing for The Edge and use published posts to build your portfolio.

Professional development and being a thought leader aren’t just limited to talking about skills and successes, though. We all struggle sometimes and struggle a bit through our career. No one will be better able to relate to and understand the obstacles new pros face than your peers. The Edge is also a good place to talk about those issues and topics that are important to you as you make your way through your early career.

We hope that you’ll see the value in being a PRSA member – and a Section member – as a new professional through the opportunities that are made available to you, but we’re also going to do a better job at showcasing some of the benefits to being a New Pros member and the value that we find in it. One way we’ll do this is by better sharing some of the more behind-the-scenes projects that we’re working on to improve our Section. We want you to be just as excited about being a new pro as we are.

We look forward to what’s ahead this year and to better getting to know you. We want to hear from you, so whether you’ve got a question that needs an answer, a success you’d like to share or an idea for something we can do better, please reach out to us on our social media channels, through our MyPRSA discussion forum, or directly to me by email.

Happy 2019, new pros!

– Robyn
  2019 PRSA New Professionals Section Chair

New Professional Spotlight: Shannon Nicholson

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Name: Shannon Nicholson
Job Role: Program Director, West Virginia University Office of Graduate Admissions
Education: B.S. Journalism, ’14, M.S. Data Marketing Communications, ’17 – WVU Reed College of Media
Social Media: @shannonicholson (Twitter) and @shannonpauline (Instagram)

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?

My first job in the industry was at a small, B2B advertising agency in Morgantown, WV. I was exposed to all facets of marketing: content development, direct email, digital advertising, media relations, social media, traditional media, and website design (to name a few). What I did not know before I started my Junior Account Manager position was the importance of tying campaigns to business goals, breaking down department silos, and utilizing collected data to be relevant and timely. Enter the Data Marketing Communications, fully-online, graduate program. This program allowed me to bridge my interest in the business-side of marketing and my growing expertise in the field.

How did you find internships/jobs?

As a WVU student and alumni, I have an amazing resource at my disposal- MountaineerTrak powered by the Career Services Center. MountaineerTrak was my first line of defense. During my years as an undergrad, the Reed College of Media hired a Director of Student Careers and Opportunities, Eric Minor. Eric’s weekly “opportunity” email quickly became my go-to resource. Eric is the perfect liaison between current students looking for experience and alumni looking to provide that experience as a way to give back to their alma mater.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge I have faced in my young career has been introducing new procedures, and strategies from the ground up. In my current role, I assumed that after six months and I’ll be like a well-oiled machine and have already implemented new strategies. I soon realized that implementation would take closer to one year. The next year will be spent analyzing, and the following year will be about growth and optimization. It is hard not to get ahead of myself and want to be at year three, today! Really, the biggest challenge is not trying something new, it is pacing myself to check one step off the list at a time. Devoting 110% to each step without getting ahead of myself and potentially losing sight of details that could later derail all that the team has worked towards. Slow and steady wins the race.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?

Differing experiences, bring perspective. In my Data Marketing Communications cohort, students had varying backgrounds in data, graphic design, marketing, sales, etc. Listening to each other’s viewpoints helped the entire cohort approach problems with an open mind.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?

You won’t know unless you try.

Do you have any advice for future PR pros?

There are a lot of different ways to apply your marketing/PR knowledge. Don’t limit yourself to certain industries or titles. Today, there are more opportunities than ever to be creative with your knowledge.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?

I think the biggest benefit of the New Pros section is the opportunity for engagement and networking. PRSA boasts amazing partners, and communities for growth and learning. I was particularly drawn to the #NPPRSA Twitter chats. Twitter chats have been a great outlet to informally discuss specific topics with others in the industry. I have found that those who participate want to engage and share. Even simply reading through threads has helped open my eyes to areas outside of my expertise.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting your career?

You will never stop learning. When you think you know enough, there is always more. It is important to be vigilant about the changes within your field.

Tell us a little-known fact about yourself.

I have a Bengal Cat that is about 20 lbs, who acts more like a small dog than a cat.

This New Professionals spotlight is sponsored by West Virginia University. If you are a member of PRSA New Pros and interested in being featured, or interested in nominating someone to be featured as a part of our #MemberSpotlight, please complete the following form.

 

Four Ways Your PRSA Membership Can Help You Get Connected

PRSA can help you get connected

In the first five years of your career, there is a lot of information and experiences thrown at you. You’re trying to figure out your first few jobs, learn about various industries and communications functions, and make a mark for yourself. PRSA’s New Professionals section can help you get there through programming, networking and mentorship.

As PRSA National wrote, “A well-developed professional network can be a source of friendships, mentors and referrals. Your network can also provide objective insights for evaluating opportunities and problems. PRSA’s 21,000+ members are excellent resources for cultivating relationships with colleagues who can help advance your career. A solid network of valuable contacts is always valuable, now more than ever.”

Whether you’re a PRSA member that transitioned from PRSSA, a new member finding your way, or a prospective member, here are three key ways PRSA can help you get more in contact with your peers:

  1. Connect with PR pros in your industry sector (via PRSA Sections)
    Not all communication and public relations professionals face the same challenges. PRSA has 14 professional interest groups, known as Sections. Most Sections focus on a specific industry while a few of the Sections are geared toward career levels (such as New Pros!). Each Section focuses on common issues related to an area of practice or special interest and is dedicated to bringing its members important, relevant information regarding their area of interest. Beyond involvement in New Pros, it can be helpful to join the section relevant to your industry – such as nonprofit, financial, health, technology, travel, and more – for tailored professional development.
  1. Build a strong network of local peers (via PRSA Chapters and Districts)
    A strong network is diverse and includes clients, peers, senior professionals, business leaders and vendors. PRSA Chapters give members the opportunity to strengthen their networks, grow as professionals and provide better solutions to the organizations they serve. Many Chapters provide New Pros programming at the local level, live. California Capital, Chicago, and more have active New Pros committees.
  1. Demonstrate thought leadership (via MyPRSA)
    Do you have something to say about a topic in which you’re well versed? If so, you could become an influential thought leader on PRSA’s members-only online community, MyPRSA. A great way to meet other PR and communications professionals is by answering questions, writing thought-provoking posts and blogs, and sharing experiences. There’s a New Pros-specific community to engage with professionals in a similar point in their career as you. You can also write for PRSA New Pros’ blog The Edge.
  1. Set yourself up for your next career success
    Plus, PRSA offers lifelong learning to help you improve your job skills, stay competitive and advance your career. There are on-demand trainings, MBA prep and APR support sessions.

Porterfield,Hanna_headshot2017This content originally appeared in PRSA’s membership email and was repurposed for use on PRSA New Pros The Edge 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 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.

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

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.