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.

 

Meet the PRSA New Pros Section Founder: Mary Beth West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were your biggest accomplishments for the section?

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

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

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

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

What advice do you have for New Pros today?

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

Any closing thoughts to share?

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

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

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

 

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.

Facebook Pixel: Diving into Analytics

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By: Cait Crenshaw

If you’re a PR professional dipping into the world of digital media, the learning curve can be daunting. Don’t let the jargon of website code or analytics deter you. Digital analytics are powerful because we can prove an ROI and use the data to make creative adjustments. The Facebook pixel is a tool everyone should mobilize if you are running Facebook ads.

What’s a pixel? The Facebook pixel is a piece of code, and because it’s code it is not for PR professionals to shy away from. Within the Facebook ads manager, you can activate a pixel for your account and grab the code. The next step is when your team’s website guru comes in and installs the pixel code on your website.

It is possible to get more granular with a Facebook pixel. Facebook has given us nine different events for nine different actions that someone may take on your website. Keep in mind the Facebook pixel should align with the overall goal of the Facebook advertising campaign. Are you driving traffic to view specific content on the website, make a purchase, or sign-up through a form? Choose the goal of your Facebook ad campaign before making any other decisions.

By far the best advantage from using a Facebook pixel is custom audiences. Since Facebook can see when someone visits your website with the pixel, you can mold your audience in ads manager even more granular than audience targeting. With the pixel, it’s possible to retarget people who visited a particular page or who visited during a specific time. For clients on a deadline or e-commerce clients, these custom audiences can translate into ROI.

The Facebook pixel also provides powerful insight into how and where people interact with your Facebook ad. Are most people interacting with it from mobile or desktop? Little tweaks to the creative image or copy of a Facebook ad can give your message the competitive edge in the noisy online world that resonates with your audience.

What actionable insights can your team gain from launching a Facebook pixel?

Cait Crenshaw is a PRSA member and Communications Manager at Signature HealthCARE. She is an alumna of the University of Louisville. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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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.