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.

 

From Post-Grad to Professional: How to Jump into the PR World in 2017

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Just do it. And no, this isn’t a blog post sponsored by Nike. Just do it. Dive head-first into the pool of opportunity that is the public relations world. Its waters are deep; you will want a life jacket. And as you have already concluded, there is no lifeguard on duty. Have no fear! You will not sink… as long as you abide by these two policies this year:

Maintain enthusiasm. Seek opportunity.

Structure. It is defined as the process between components of something complex. As students, we developed a habit to systematize our lives around class schedules and the daily routines which coincided with college life. Before you knew it, it was over. What now? Uncertainty is intimidating. The structure you unknowingly relied on is no longer defined by your next class assignment, mid-term paper or upcoming PRSSA meeting. Where to next?

Consider this reality check:

You are the navigator. This is huge. What a wonderful place to be – at the starting line of the real world. There is potential at every corner. Apart from the support of your family and friends, the defining factor of what will push (sometimes pull) you along will be your enthusiasm. This is essential not only for how you conduct your professional life, but also your inner persona.

“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Success does not happen overnight, but becoming self-aware about your attitude can. If you are feeling discouraged, know that some of the strongest leaders were not knock-out superstars on day one. It was through the lessons learned by making countless mistakes that, over time, sculpted the greatest trailblazers in our industry. How did they make it? They were passionate about their work, they thought creatively and most importantly, they were enthusiastic about the “lessons” they learned from failing. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

Next, Opportunity

Whether you’re interning at a branding agency, working part-time within a company’s marketing department, taking on freelance work, or still trying to figure out your next steps – know that being fresh out of the graduation cap and gown leaves a door open for the unimaginable. You have the time to invest in yourself outside of what you have done to earn your degree.

This year, make an effort to:

  • Become involved with your local PRSA New Professional section and surround yourself with a community of individuals who also want to invest in themselves. It is an empowering experience.
  • Seek mentorship through the PRSA Mentor Match. There are few words I can use to explain how important it is to find a mentor that can give you valuable guidance during your first steps into the industry. In one word: necessary. Anticipate an awe-inspiring moment when you see exactly what you want to do in your career. Your mentors will open your eyes to this.
  • Conquer the available PRSA training courses online through the PRSA website. These are essential skills and strategies that will prove themselves handy in times of demand.
  • Find inspiration by reading the best sellers in public relations and marketing and by watching webinars. Gain an insight on how industry leaders think. These are unparalleled resources for devising successful campaign strategies and sparking remarkable ideas.
  • If you want to do work in social media, work on earning native social media platform certifications through Facebook Blueprint and Twitter Flight School. Become Google certified in Google Analytics and Google AdWords if you are interested in online advertising. The more you know, the more you grow. Having these certifications under your belt can give you a level up on your resume.

Taking advantage of your resources is the greatest graduation gift you can give yourself this year. Remember, enthusiasm sparks curiosity which introduces opportunity. How did you jump head-first into the public relations world? I would love to hear your story!

anne-deady


Anne Deady is a social media specialist at MMI Agency in Houston, TX and a member of the PRSA Houston Chapter. Her professional interests include influencer marketing and social media strategy. In her spare time, Anne’s favorite activities include attempting every BuzzFeed Tasty recipe and teaching her German Shepherd tricks. She graduated from the University of Houston with a corporate communication major and business minor. You can follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

Why Mentorship Still Matters

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Many young professionals are not aware of the importance of mentorship to their career advancement. In fact, the concept of mentorship has been around since the concept of a workplace has existed, it’s just that it wasn’t always called that. Centuries ago, this practice was most commonly referred to as an apprenticeship. Apprentices learned to become goldsmiths, bakers, farmers and metal workers through this practice. They depended on the maturity, experience and wisdom of their teachers to gain the skills they needed to become masters of the trade themselves. It’s only in recent history that this method of learning has been called mentorship.

In today’s modern world, mentorship is just as important than ever, if not more. The reason for this is the complex, fast paced and sometimes overwhelming business world we live in. It’s almost impossible to build a solid career and advance in it without learning to apply business practices and recent technologies that would have baffled the mind as recently as a couple of decades ago.

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Mentorship not only benefits the protege, but the mentor as well. While the mentee learns valuable skills and techniques, the mentor can take note of the methods of training that have been proven to work just by observing the progress being made by his or her mentee. This mentor can then pass this on to other mentors, and if careful records are taken, newer and even more efficient methods of training can be established and passed on to other established and would-be mentors. This spells progress for both mentors and mentees.

How Mentorship Leads to Career Advancement. The benefits of mentorship to career advancement cannot be overstated (Click to Tweet!). Young professionals that receive mentoring advance in their careers much faster than those who don’t. There are good reasons for this.

Emotional & Psychological Support. Surely, it’s understandable that when young aspiring professionals enter into a field of expertise there can be stress and anxiety associated with it. When a mentor is available for guidance, the mentee can experience the inner stability of knowing he or she has someone to advise them during times of doubt, frustration and nervousness. When we as human beings are calm and focused, our creativity, perseverance and thinking processes are at their best.

Faster Learning Process. Young professionals that have mentors they can count on do not need to count solely on the knowledge they have learned while in college or other training facilities. They have at their disposal established professionals in their chosen field who have the experience and knowledge they need to quickly advance. This is not to say that the formal training they have received at institutions is not important, because it is. It’s just that nothing can compare with the real-world experiences their mentors already have. Those that have mentors are usually higher achievers, earn more promotions and see more frequent and higher salary increases than those who don’t.

Job Socialization. Although new professionals have been trained through formal educational institutions, internships and other educational involvements, they still have a lot to learn about the organization they are entering into. Having the basic skills to do their appointed job properly is not enough. They need to develop ways to adjust to and fit in with their new professional environment in order to thrive in it.

Importance of Choosing the Right Mentor. Clear communication is crucial for a mentee and mentor relationship to be successful. When a potential mentee considers a potential mentor, they should first make it clear what they hope to gain from this relationship. A clear set of goals should be clearly defined by the mentee. This will start the process of establishing the right mentor and mentee match. If it’s a good match, the mentor will have a lot to offer to help the mentee reach their career goals.

Erika KauffmanErika Kauffman is the General Manager & Executive Vice President at 5W Public Relations. With over a decade of experience in communications and management at 5W PR, Erika is an integral part of the firm’s leadership team and oversees a number of industry practices at the agency.

What skills do young PR pros need?

What skills do young PR pros need-If you want to excel in the PR world, it’s time to think beyond the classroom.

(Uh oh. I can already hear some angry rumblings from my former professors…)

I’ll admit, the skills you learn in your PR classes are vital. They’ve helped me understand strategy, ROI, media relations and much more.

(Phew. Now my next campus visit won’t be so awkward.)

But today’s PR pros need more than the basics. Even if you have a progressive professor teaching integrated PR, there’s still no way you can learn every single new marketing skill in one semester, or even four years.

With the way this PR world is changing, it’s just not humanly possible. To stay competitive in the job market you need to be:

  • Constantly learning.
  • Subscribing to podcasts.
  • Reading blogs daily.
  • Heck, even starting your own blog.

But don’t just take my word for it. To help answer the “What skills do young PR pros need” question, I’ve aggregated tips from some leading industry experts. 

Understand the data @johnsonhui 

As a new PR pro, you’ll be heavily involved in reporting and measurement. But Johnson Hui of Edelman notes the most impressive employees can infer actionable insights from data – instead of just regurgitating numbers.

“PR professionals no longer simply grind data from press clips and media audits,” he says in Edelman’s blog post. “They need to be able to identify valuable data and tell evidence-based stories that can impact business decisions.”

Learn content marketing@GiniDietrich

In her August 2014 post, Gini suggests doing content marketing for yourself to really understand how to use it on the job. Get started with a personal blog on Tumblr, WordPress or Blogger.

I started my own PR blog last year, and the insights I’ve gleaned have been tremendous. I researched and uncovered entirely new social and syndication tools to help my content get found, which, in turn, is used to help my clients amplify their own content.

Bonus tip: If you’re thinking to yourself “I have nothing to write about!” check out another Gini post on generating blog post ideas.

Speak publicly – confidently @RachelAMiller

Sure, digital is an integral part of PR, but that doesn’t mean face-to-face communication is obsolete. Not by a long shot.

Rachel Miller of PR 20|20 notes that public speaking is the number one fear in the U.S. (Yes, number *one* above disgusting spiders or 50-legged silverfish bugs – my arch enemies). But, whether you’re sharing ideas during internal meetings or presenting a Q2 or annual plan to clients, public speaking is a necessity.

To beef up your public speaking skills – and calm those jitters – Rachel suggests finding local speech classes, clubs or even making toasts at family functions like weddings. (Look no further than Michael Scott for this inspiration.)

Look for trends, not just hits @Julia_Sahin 

In her post “10 things young PR pros need to STOP doing to get ahead,” Julia tells young PR pros to look for trends hidden within clients’ stories and industries. It’s easy to find client coverage and call it a day, but the PR pros who find the underlying trends are the PR pros who excel.

“Picking up the patterns and interests of reporters, publications and blogs and identifying opportunities is one of the most valuable skills in the industry,” she says in the post on Muckrack. “Start this practice early and you’ll be a real pro before you know it.”

Understand the media landscape@allenmireles

Despite the ongoing PR changes, one traditional tactic remains integral to the industry: media relations. The third-party credibility is irreplaceable, says Allen.

But today’s media relations looks quite different than media relations 10 years ago. We now have blogger and influencer relations under that media umbrella. To stay updated on the media landscape, you must read, watch and listen to the news. And better yet, get your news from a variety of outlets.

This knowledge will get you far in the interview process and on the job.

PR is a constantly evolving industry.  To get ahead of the pack, you’ll need to make sure these skills (plus those described in the subhead hyperlinks, which I strongly suggest reading) are part of your PR repertoire.

And now, it’s your turn: What must-have PR skills would you add to this list?

Stephanie VermillionStephanie Vermillion is a senior account executive at Wordsworth Communications, a public relations agency in Cincinnati. She is the PRSA National New Professionals blog co-chair, and is on the PRSA Cincinnati Leadership Team. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter (@SMVermillion).

Five PR Tips From Taylor Swift

Five PR tips from Taylor Swift

Image from Canva.com

A pop princess may be the last person you’d expect to look up to as a public relations professional, but Taylor Swift is definitely doing something right. Between buzzing up constant media attention, building a loyal fan base, and staying true to her strengths, there’s a lot we can learn from Taylor about being a successful communicator.

She knows her brand. Crossing over to full-fledged pop could have spelled career disaster, but Taylor stayed true to herself by making the switch.

Be like Taylor: Spend time learning the voice of each of your clients and you’ll be able to decide the best ways and places to tell their stories.

She’s a conversationalist. Taylor has crazy follower counts across the board, but she’s not just broadcasting on social. She’s truly interacting with her fans! With so many people talking, it’s hard to actually hear anything these days.

Be like Taylor: Running a brand’s social media? Pull a page from Taylor’s playbook and reply to fans posts, seek out conversations via hashtag searches, and be proactive in your interactions. Use your personal Twitter to build relationships with media. In other words, be social! (Click to Tweet)

She offers the exclusive. Before her latest album dropped last fall, Taylor held secret listening parties across the world with 89 of her biggest fans at each event. Fans were invited to get a first listen to 1989 in Taylor’s very own homes. Hearing the album ahead of time didn’t dull the excitement around the release: these select fans were even more thrilled to see her music finally debut weeks later.

Be like Taylor:  Have a great story brewing? Reach out to one of those contacts you’ve built a relationship with and offer it as an exclusive. Between the 24-hour news cycle and a saturated media market, breaking a story has become just as rare as a Taylor Swift listening party. Working together on an exclusive can benefit both you and your contact. You’ll secure a great coverage hit while your contact gets to lead the media frenzy.

She knows what’s trending and how it aligns with her brand. She uses news angles to her advantage to ensure she’s being talked about. When Tumblr went crazy over the Becky meme, Taylor was spotted the very next week in a “no it’s becky” tee.

Be like Taylor: Consume a variety of media every day so you know what’s hot and how you can be a part of the story.

She shakes it off. At the end of the day, not every relationship, song lyric, or pitch is going to work. Taylor doesn’t stress about the things that don’t fit – she’s able to kick back and poke fun at herself for every faux pas.

Be like Taylor: Take what you learn from every experience and use it to be better the very next day.

We all know Taylor’s talents are countless! What other PR lessons have you learned from Taylor Swift? Share below!

 IMG_0011.JPGChristine Perez is an Account Executive at The S3 Agency, a boutique advertising, social media, and public relations agency in Northern New Jersey. She has a wide array of experience with CPG products on both the agency and client sides. In her free time, she volunteers with a local animal rescue as a communication strategist and pet foster. Tweet with her @ICtine or connect with her on LinkedIn.