Leveraging your PRSSA Leadership Experience to Launch your Career

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Leveraging your PRSSA Leadership Experience to Launch your Career
By: Emma Finkbeiner, PRSSA Immediate Past President

For recent graduates, standing out amongst your peers in the job search is crucial. In a competitive industry, leveraging the leadership experience gained through PRSSA membership can help you do just that. I spoke with four former PRSSA National Committee members about skills they learned through PRSSA involvement and how they used their experiences to help launch their careers.

Brian Price, PRSSA 2013-14 National President
Corporate Communications Manager, Starwood Retail Partners

Heather Harder, PRSSA 2014-15 National President
Communications Manager, RSE Ventures

Laura Daronatsy, PRSSA 2015-16 National President
Communications Leadership Development Program Associate, Lockheed Martin

Veronica Mingrone, PRSSA 2015-16 National Vice President of Career Services
Analyst, Canvas Blue

What did PRSSA leadership experience teach you about professionalism?

Brian: “I think it showed I took my profession and professional development very seriously. But, you need stories to back it up to show why and how PRSSA experiences are so valuable. Seek out leadership positions not just to have the line on your resume, but for the development that comes with it.”

Laura: “PRSSA helped me launch my career because it allowed me to learn what professional behavior looked like and how to emulate it.”

Veronica: “PRSSA taught me how to interact with professionals at much different stages in their careers than I was. Now, I feel better prepared to engage with senior leadership at my company and, more broadly, at networking events. Knowing how to approach others confidently and keep in touch with them has been instrumental in my career.”

Heather: “Engaging with senior PR professionals as a student taught me a lot about when to speak up and when to listen.”

PRSSA leadership positions are volunteer positions. How is this type of leadership experience different because of that fact?

Laura: “PRSSA taught me it’s not enough to just show up. Raise your hand. Be a volunteer! Help someone else out. You have to be a giver, contributor and follower before you can truly be a respected leader. By thinking about what you can contribute, you’re already doing a crucial part of leading — leaving the place, organization or person better than the way you found it.”

Veronica: “Regardless if your aspirations are to serve students as a Chapter leader or on the National Committee, the operative word is “serve.” Any position you hold in the society – at whatever level – will likely be a time commitment and a good amount of work.”

What did you learn from leading a group of your peers?

Brian: “Much more than group projects in classes, PRSSA taught me to work with a group of my peers. Now, I do it all the time at work, especially when I was at Edelman with so many like-minded colleagues. In PRSSA, you work for clients, projects, fundraising programs with people you (hopefully) like personally, but also respect professionally even when there are competing ideas and different approaches. It’s just like a good workplace in that sense.”

Laura: “I referred to my leadership positions multiple times throughout my interviews because I had learned so many lessons — both good and bad — by leading my peers. It definitely helped (still helps) me in my job now because I know how to manage a project when working with people completely different from me.”

Heather: “Coming into a PR firm with leadership and management experience, I was immediately recognized as someone with the potential to manage our interns and given more responsibility because of the skills I’d developed in PRSSA.”

How did the network you built from involvement in PRSSA benefit you as you began your career?

Brian: “PRSSA prepared me the most by developing my network. I was active in PRSSA outside of just my Chapter, and met many influential professionals and rising new professionals. They became mentors and trusted resources who helped me through the job search process.”

Veronica: “I was able to leverage PRSSA in the job hunt by tapping on the connections – both peer and professional – that I had made in the four years I was a member. These people knew the value of PRSSA and what it meant for my professional development.”

Heather: “You have to continue to cultivate the network and keep in touch with everyone interesting that you meet. It really was useful for obtaining the recommendations that helped me get two very important jobs in my career. I don’t know that I’d have gotten those jobs without being able to call up some PRSSA/PRSA mentors and have them put in a word, because I’d kept a genuine connection with them.”

How did your leadership experience help you stand out among the crowd?

Laura: “You can set yourself apart as a teammate and a leader simply by putting in a little extra time and effort.”

Veronica: “PRSSA gave me an opportunity to lead – and I don’t think I would’ve had experience managing a team this early in my career were it not for the society. It allowed me to become confident in my leadership abilities, to explore my career interests, to travel and figure out where I wanted to move post-grad, to become an ambassador for my university and well-known in my program – and the list goes on and on.”

Heather: “Once I brought it up and explained how much management, leadership and hands-on experience it had given me, I was able to immediately standout as someone with a unique experience and a passion for the industry. These skills helped me prove myself to get more responsibility very early in my first job.”

It’s important to note that the leadership journeys of these four individuals are far from over. All four have continued their development by joining PRSA, serving on the New Professionals Executive Committee and getting involved in local PRSA Chapters. Leadership and professional development is truly never finished, and dedicating time to an organization like PRSSA or PRSA shows your continued interest in the industry and your own professional growth.

Inside the Mind of a Millennial Reporter: The Art of Pitching

the Art of pitching

Inside the Mind of a Millennial Reporter: The Art of Pitching

An Interview with Inc. Columnist Jeff Barrett

By Heather Harder

We all know the stat: For every five PR people, there is one journalist. With the fast pace of news development, pitching has become both easier and harder in different ways. Contributors have become even more essential to help news rooms fill content.

I spoke with Jeff Barrett, an Inc. columnist, PR and digital consultant and Shorty Award winner to learn more about how he became a successful top-tier contributor, as well as his advice for PR pros who want to pitch contributors.

How did you become a top-tier contributor?

This wasn’t something I stumbled into. Inc. approached me because I’d written for Mashable many times over the course of six years. I never thought of myself as a journalist.

When I first started as a PR professional, it was really difficult to make a phone call, send an email and try to make someone cover something in the business. I needed to be able to create a name for myself and have an opportunity to get myself covered more. So I made a bigger social platform, and places started becoming pretty interested in my writing.

I kind of used the column as an opportunity to build up a name to where I’ve taken a different path to being able to help get coverage for my clients.

How does being a contributor make it easier for you to get your clients coverage?

I don’t write about clients. It’s about credibility and visibility, getting a leg up and a having a talking point when pitching reporters. And it goes both ways – doing an interview for Inc., for example, I understand what the PR person needs and wants.

What are some things to keep in mind when pitching a contributor vs. a full-time staffer?

A full-time staffer is going to be a little more rushed. I would say a contributor is more PR friendly. They’re going to be looking for all kinds of things to talk about.

Ask yourself how you can create reciprocal value. How are you providing value to a staffer? Do you have clients who are good sources? In both cases, it’s more about developing a relationship than it is about developing your pitch. You want to be able to say, “Here are the people I work with and the things I hope to get covered.” Then hope they’ll think of a way to create something. The time spent trying to cultivate the perfect pitch is not as advantageous as trying to create the perfect relationship. It’s the same with full-time staffers.

What are key things millennials like/don’t like when it comes to receiving pitches?

It has certainly become less and less formal. There is greater need to tap into social influencers. It really does just come down to building that relationship.

Pull away as far as you can from press releases. A press release is the owner’s manual. If you bought furniture from Ikea, you kind of need the manual to put things together, but you wouldn’t sell someone the owner’s manual. My process is to build the relationship and have a quick discussion. That discussion might end up being via text, Facebook message or Snapchat until we get to a point where something makes sense. It’s finding people in the channels that make the most sense to them.

You just start to adapt your message and speak in quicker soundbites. If you send someone a novel, it might be a little intimidating and they might just not know what to do with it. You almost start speaking in 140-220 characters. Plus with that approach, that’s less work on your end, then you can build out the release.

The worst thing to do is take three hours writing a release and crafting the perfect pitch. Every client is going to think that all their stuff deserves all the attention in the world. You have to believe in your clients.

When first making contact, do you think it’s better to be overly professional or to show your true personality?

A bit depends on how the relationship started. If it started on Twitter, it can be more goofy and casual. Over LinkedIn emails, you have to be professional. Go with your gut. Generally speaking, I try to get to casual as soon as I can. It’s way more beneficial.

How are changes in storytelling affecting how we need to package our stories?

Everything has a shorter shelf life now. It used to be that you could run things down. I received about 50 pitches with people wanting to talk about United a day or two after the big incident 2017. It was too late. Yes, it takes time to come up with the pitch and the angle. But if you have a relationship, tell the reporter you can talk about United now. You have to be able to capitalize on the first 24 hours. If you see something emerging, make sure you have three to four people in your back pocket to help you out. It’s really like a speed game – it’s like day trading versus investing in stock. Pitching is faster now.

Heather Harder is a communications specialist at RSE Ventures, a New York-based investment and incubation firm. She was formerly PRSSA National President and PRSA New Professionals Board Member. Follow her on Twitter @HeathHarder.

Member Spotlight: Cait Crenshaw

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Name: Cait Crenshaw
Position/Company: Communications Manager at Signature HealthCARE
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Education: M.A. Communication from University of Louisville
Social Media Handle: @Cait_Crenshaw

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?
I changed my mind about my career twice, without ever changing my major. Changing from high school English teacher, I discovered a real love for journalism and storytelling in college. I was hooked. I spent entire weekends in the basement office of our university newspaper. After a few years, I realized it is the storytelling, editing, details, and strategic planning that I love and switched to corporate communications.

How did you find internships/jobs?
My professors were my best resource for internships. I checked our university career center’s listings and department’s listings, too. Actually, one of my professors recommended me for an internship, and that internship led to my current job. I found my full-time job when someone I had previously worked with during an internship emailed me the application. It was a fit!

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career so far has been when someone, who had power and pull at the organization I worked for at the time, said, “Oh, she can’t do it. That’s not what she does.” I felt deflated for a moment, but the experience taught me an important lesson.

The experience taught me to create growing opportunities for myself. Instead of waiting for an invitation to sit at the table, I flipped my thinking and directly asked for a seat at the table.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?
Working hard is important but working smarter and strategically is even better. School only required me to do the work but starting my career has challenged me to work smarter. I start every week with a list. The things that I can automate in Outlook I do.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?
At the end of my very first internship, my boss gave me an honest evaluation, and I am incredibly thankful for her. I don’t remember any of her compliments or praises, but I do remember her telling me, almost commanding me, “Take more risks.”

Also, it’s not really advice, but here is a favorite of mine, especially when I think about the future of my career. A wise professor in my master’s program at the University of Louisville said, “People work for daily meaning, as well as daily bread.”

Do you have any advice for future PR pros?
Be a sponge and learn. Ever have a meeting where afterwards you google the acronyms they were using? Oh, just me, okay. The point is there are limitless resources to learn at our fingertips. We just have to grab one, learn, and apply it.

Also, your greatest asset is the ability to adapt and communicate at different levels of an organization and with different types of people.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?
In the New Pros section, I like that I am connected to people who have or are going through the same professional growing pains. There isn’t a time when I login to PRSA and do not learn something new. In an industry that changes so quickly, learning from other pros is a big resource.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting your career?
I wish I would have had a better sense of the things no one wants to talk about, such as salary negotiation and time off. My tendency is to work, work, and work, so the idea of work life balance is very much still in-progress for me.

Tell us a little-known fact about yourself.
My first job was working as a soccer referee at the age of 13.

Headshot 2018
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Association/Nonprofit PR

Association_Non-Profit

Glamorizations of public relations usually show a chic woman in a big city, working one-on-one with clients. She attends swanky parties and always gets her clients the right attention without much more effort than snapping her fingers.

That’s what I thought would be in store for me with a career in PR when I first started studying. I daydreamed about working at an agency, managing client accounts and pitching new ideas in meetings and stories to media, mainly because that was the only real path that was discussed at length. PR people work for agencies, serving clients, right?

Wrong. There are so many other paths, so many other adventures you can go on. A quick look at PRSA’s website shows 14 different professional interest sections, representing just a handful of specialization options out there for pros to find the best fit for their skills and interests. As it turns out, nonprofit/association communications was the best fit for me.

Working for a nonprofit or association is a great way to get experience in a lot of different areas. Most nonprofits operate with limited resources, meaning an organization’s communications department may literally be a one- or two-man shop. It can be a little frightening to step in and be responsible for so many moving parts – social media, media relations, content development, creation, management and marketing, event planning, stakeholder relations, fundraising…the list could go on and on – but its equally as exciting.

Including internships, I’m currently at my fourth nonprofit/association and no two days have been identical yet. Since nonprofits and associations are typically topic- or issue-oriented, there’s a diverse array of organizations to choose from.

Here are five things I’ve found exciting about working at a nonprofit and three lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Five things I love about nonprofit/association communications:

  1. Room to take on new responsibilities
    Since most nonprofits and associations have smaller staffs with limited resources, there’s often an opportunity to take on more responsibilities than initially assigned – and you should! Communications roles in particular tend to have pretty general position descriptions focusing on the day-to-day and tactical. And while everyone does have to pitch in on the administrative work, there’s no reason you can’t set your sights higher and on something to boost your own career. Want to get more experience with the media? Suggest pitching in with the pitching. Is your organization lacking a clear communications strategy? Take the lead and volunteer to lead a couple brainstorming sessions before taking the first crack at a comprehensive strategy to define SMART goals and deliver results. When you find an opportunity to enhance your skills in a way that will ultimately benefit your organization, speak up about how you think you can help.
  2. Room for innovation
    With limited resources and budgets, there’s a lot of room for trying new things. There’s no monopoly on who can come up with great ideas, so flex your muscles and make sure you’re making time to brainstorm and keeping track of your ideas for when they might be useful. Those ideas are great to pull out of your back pocket when issues arise – true no matter the industry you’re in, but the smaller the organization, the more open they tend to be to trying new, sometimes exciting, ideas.
  3. No two organizations are the same
    While many nonprofits or associations share similarities – small in size, low operating budgets, limited resources – no two are identical. Some are issue-based, some are industry-specific and others are more general. Working in the nonprofit space doesn’t mean that your organization’s issue has to be your most passionate cause, but it’s important to care about the work you’re doing. Going in with an open mind and an interest in what you’ll be focusing on will go a long way, but understand that your experience may differ from organization to organization.
  4. You can learn a little about everything
    In my experience, there are plenty of opportunities to help with other organization functions outside of communications. No matter the organization or industry, communications touches all other departments in some way, shape or form. Whether you’re working together on projects or crossing disciplines entirely, there’s plenty of room to learn a little about everything your organization does – from operations all the way down.
  5. Flexibility
    Since there’s usually not much wiggle room as far as salary goes, there’s sometimes a bit of room to negotiate on other things. Remote work, comp time and professional development opportunities are just a few of the things you may be able to more easily ask for. In a past job, my responsibilities often included work outside of the normal 8-to-4, meaning I was working and not getting paid for it. As a way to accommodate the need to work at odd hours sometimes, I was able to negotiate flexible hours that allowed me to leave earlier in the afternoon and work later in the evening, when things would often come up.

Three lessons I’ve learned

  1. Learning how to prioritize and balance everything
    Nonprofits often have a lot going on and sometimes it can feel like you’re expected to be a jack-of-all-trades – or a court jester with all the things you’re juggling. Learning how to prioritize can be tough. Sometimes it’s difficult because there are just not enough hours in the day. Sometimes it’s because everything becomes an emergency when there wasn’t enough time or energy put into planning. Or maybe you’ve just been too busy putting out fires that something just fell to the wayside. Whatever the reason, learning to keep track of where everything that you’re responsible for stands and a method for prioritizing responsibilities in a way that works for you can go a long way in easing the stress.
  2. Making sure professional development is still a focus
    Building right of of learning to prioritize and manage your responsibilities, it’s just as important to make sure that you’re continuing to grow and learn. This can be difficult at a nonprofit, or any smaller organization really, because time and money are often both limited. Not all employers will pay for memberships in professional organizations like PRSA or for professional development opportunities like courses and conferences. If continuing to grow professionally is important to you – and it should be – you may have to take it into your own hands and make time for it outside of or around work. This isn’t always an easy thing to do and it can be frustrating to feel like your organization doesn’t support you (which it may feel like sometimes), but the connections you make at events and the opportunities that may be open to you with every new skill you learn or fine-tune will be worth the time and energy.
  3. Professional growth and knowing when it’s time to go
    If you’re continuing to grow professionally, there may come a time when your organization is no longer the best fit for you. It can often be difficult to grow within a small organization because there are a limited number of positions to fill and the only role to aspire to may be your boss’s. If you’re ready to take on more responsibilities, it’s worth having a conversation with your organization’s leadership about what you’d like to be doing and why you think you’re ready for it. There may be room to adjust, maybe a new position can be created for you and an intern or new employee can be hired to pick up some of the slack. If that’s not the case, and you feel like there isn’t room for you to continue to grow, it may be time to look for new opportunities. This shouldn’t be something done sneakily if you’ve had these conversations about being ready for more. There are plenty of tactful ways to leave for a new opportunity without feeling like you’re abandoning ship.

 

Image uploaded from iOSIn her third year on PRSA’s New Professionals Section’s executive committee, Robyn serves as 2018 chair-elect. She’s a native of southern New Jersey and currently resides in Washington, D.C., by way of Pittsburgh and South Carolina. Robyn currently works for Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), a trade association representing North America’s airports, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and a master’s degree in media arts and technology, with a focus on creative media practices, both from Duquesne University. She likes to spend her spare time cooking, reading, exploring, crocheting and spending time with her tail-less cat, Izzy. Learn more about her on her website or find her on Twitter & talk to her!

Maximize Your Career Potential by Managing Up

managing-up

Picture this: you’ve just started a new job, but your new manager isn’t as hands-on as previous supervisors or professors. Instead, you get 30-minutes of one-on-one time with them every other week and—before you can even learn how to use the printer—they expect you to show results. Yikes! Other managers may report into someone that is too hands-on—an entirely different challenge. Whatever your situation may be, learning how to work with your direct supervisor can make or break the early days of your career. The right manager can be your mentor, guide and biggest cheerleader, and it all comes down to how you manage up.

Changing Workplace Dynamics and the Keys to Managing Up
According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials (ages 21 to 38) have overtaken Baby Boomers in the workforce. Did you cringe at the word “millennials”? It’s Ok. I hate that word, too. Younger generations get a bad rep – we are often pegged as needy, entitled, narcissistic, unfocused, lazy – the list goes on. What’s interesting is that we see ourselves as motivated and purpose-driven, trying to make a difference in the world.

Simon Sinek’s video about Millennials in the workforce highlights a key point that unlocks a lot of our problem here: Millennials tend to have difficulty developing meaningful relationships—especially in the workplace. They also tend to be impatient about getting to where they’re going.

The reality, as stated by Sinek, is that the key to managing up is found at the intersection of patience and relationship development.

We’ve all heard the saying, “People leave managers, not companies.” According to Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, “The single biggest decision you make in your job—bigger than all the rest—is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits—nothing.” (Source: Inc.)

But what makes a good manager? In my experience, the best managers are available when you need them, capable of sharing quality feedback, and able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in others. While it’s easy to demand those of others,  best way to bring these characteristics out in your manager is to portray them yourselves.

Millennial psychology aside, there are some clear ways to “hack” managing up—no matter which kind of manager you have.

The Power of Quick Wins
If you’ve worked at an agency, you’ll be familiar with this concept. This is the first rule of onboarding a new account—deliver quick wins. However you define a “win,” immediately delivering on your promises and showing success can go a long way in getting the right attention from your manager.

This doesn’t only work for new relationships. In fact, this works after every performance review, weekly one-on-one meeting and more. Remind them of why they hired you and remind them that it was a good decision.

How to Ask for Feedback
How many times have you felt criticized or unappreciated at work? In those situations, I would say it’s probably because you were lacking quality feedback. There are hundreds of articles and books about giving and receiving feedback for a reason—it’s the key to every good relationship.

When giving feedback, first make sure they’re open to it. Ideally you would have already established a relationship with your manager so you can go to them with your questions and concerns. If you have a weekly 1:1 with your boss, then it’s easy—that’s your chance to talk about things that are/aren’t working.

If not, then you need to ask. It’s easiest to do that in the context of your work with them. When they come to you with a new project ask if you can discuss your concerns one-on-one. Some helpful phrases to try out:

  • “Would it be helpful to have another perspective?”
  • “Now that I’ve gotten my head around this assignment, can I talk to you about how things are going?
  • “Do you have a minute to discuss ____? I need more clarity from you on [my role, my responsibility, how we are approaching the assignment].

The key with this is to be specific and don’t get personal. If you start making generalizations or start attacking them as an individual, you could put them on the defensive, and lose your chance to be effective.

It’s worth noting that some relationships will not allow for feedback. In those situations, it’s usually a senior executive so empower yourself to do your best to see things from their perspective.

Receiving feedback is simple—all you need to do is ask:

  • “Do you mind providing feedback on this project? I’m interested in getting your thoughts so I can learn and make adjustments next time.”
  • “Did this meet your expectations?”
  • “Am I getting closer to your vision for this project? If not, where should I focus?”

Feedback should be honest (not brutal, but direct) and real-time. If you only get feedback once per year, then you only have one chance per year to improve. If you get generic responses to your questions, follow up: “Tell me more about that.”

How to Discover “Unwritten Rules”
I’m a fan of discovering “unwritten rules” by befriending the gatekeepers—like the receptionist or your boss’s assistant. You should also work to get to know the people that have been at the company longer than you—they will be a tremendous asset to you as you get to know the “way” of a company’s culture. They can also share tips for working with certain individuals (like your manager).

Unwritten doesn’t usually mean secret, so also don’t be afraid to ask. You’re probably not the first person to do so.

Why Personalities Matter in the Workplace
In Meyers-Briggs, I’m an ENTJ. That means I’m extroverted, intuitive, a thinker and judging (i.e., logical and decisive). The better you understand yourself, the better you can help others to understand you. And for someone to truly manage me, they need to understand me—it works the other way, too.

Understanding how your manager processes information is something I’m still learning—my manager internally processes information and needs more time to think before coming back to me with feedback. I, on the other hand, externally process everything—meaning I like to talk it out with you right then and there until we come to a resolution.

Get to know your manager and be curious about how they think. Learn to anticipate their questions based on their priorities. Understand that everyone is different, and it would be unreasonable to assume otherwise.

What it Means to Set Expectations
Understanding what your manager wants from you—and vice versa—comes down to how you communicate expectations. Be clear about what’s expected up front so there are no surprises (or disappointments) down the road. How do you do that? Have a process. First, ask questions and repeat what you’re hearing. Then, put it in writing (e.g., in an email) and get them to agree to it.

Communications for Communicators
Practice what you preach. Sometimes we can be so client-focused that we forget to utilize our own best practices. Try creating your own formal strategy, just as you would with any client, for how you communicate with your manager. Pre-empt their asks by being proactive. If your manager ever has to come to you and ask you for a status report, you’re too late in getting it to them.

Learn to anticipate the questions of your manager: what are they being held accountable for? That’s what they’re going to ask you about. Find a way to let them know the status of what you’re working on so they don’t have to come looking for you.

In closing, managing up is a challenge because managing people is hard. Be patient with yourself and with your manager. Everyone is on a journey and learning at their own pace.

And the key to any management relationship—up or down—is not management, but the relationship. Take your boss out for coffee and get to know her. That relationship will be the key to your success.

Scott ThornburgAbout the Author
Scott W. Thornburg, APR, is an accredited marketing communications leader with nearly a decade of global agency and in-house experience. Passionate about his work, he is known for thoughtful management of complex issues, careful attention to detail and high-impact leadership. Scott has been a strategic communications adviser for top global brands like Oracle, ExxonMobil, Dell, Cirque du Soleil, Hard Rock, Nasdaq, lynda.com (acquired by LinkedIn) and more. He now works as a senior public relations manager for Sojern, a travel marketing and advertising technology company. He’s a graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi (2010), with a degree in journalism, and an emphasis in public relations. Scott is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and serves on the organization’s national board.