New Professional Spotlight: Shannon Nicholson


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.


Association/Nonprofit PR

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!

March 2015 #NPPRSA Twitter Chat Highlights: Preparing for a Crisis

Twitter Chat 3-18 SquareWe’d like to thank everyone who participated in the March #NPPRSA Twitter chat as we discussed crisis communications–how to prepare and how to react.  We would especially like to thank Jonathan Bernstein, President of Bernstein Crisis Management.

Join us again on April 15 for our next #NPPRSA chat and stay up-to-date with PRSA New Professionals on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Review highlights of the chat below. What did you learn from the March chat? How can you prepare for your brand’s vulnerabilities before a crisis? What can you do to minimize damage once a crisis hits?


You can receive FREE New Professionals Section membership for PRSA throughout March!

Lauren Headshot 1.3MBLauren Rosenbaum is the PRSA New Professionals Social Media Co-Chair and Co-Founder of Soversity, a public relations and digital marketing company. You can connect with her on Google+LinkedIn or Twitter.

Inside Corporate Communications (for a PR Agency)

Keep Calm and Hire A PR AgencyAfter graduating college, I was torn between searching for jobs in-house or at an agency. I knew I wanted to work in corporate communications, but the advice I received from PR professionals, professors and classmates was to try the agency route first, since there are more entry-level opportunities. Given the economic climate and difficult job market, I took that advice, but through a twist of fate found myself in a role I never even knew existed: in-house corporate communications for a PR agency!

Every day is an adventure, and there are many new skills and lessons I’ve learned through my experience so far. There’s no such thing as a typical day, but my main tasks include supporting new business opportunities, helping teams craft industry award submissions, drafting internal and external communications materials, pitching trade media, event planning and managing website content and social media properties.

The best part about working in corporate communications for a PR agency is the ability to learn how both roles function. Everyday I watch my colleagues on the account side working hard to service clients while I’ve been able to support them through corporate communications. Even though we have different roles, many of our tasks are similar (e.g. research, media lists, event management) and as new PR professionals, we’ve all learned to master the art of multi-tasking and time management—key skills needed in PR!

So as you embark on (or even just consider) a career in corporate communications, here are three tips I’ve found to be helpful in this role:

  1.  Learn as much as possible about your organization and industry. Working in corporate communications, it is vital to know everything you can about the company: its products or services, its leaders, its mission, its employees, etc. Typically, the corporate communications team serves as a liaison between the organization and external audiences, with the head of the team taking on the role of company spokesperson. If reporters or potential clients contact our team looking for information on a campaign we ran in Paris, a global offering that just launched or a new client in New York, it’s our job to answer their questions or at least be able to refer them to someone who can help. Thus, the more you know about your company, the better equipped you’ll be to respond to inquiries. The best way to learn about what’s happening is to talk to your colleagues and find out what they’re working on, pay attention to emails and updates sent around the office and study the firm’s website, policies, case studies and credentials, anything that will provide background information to give you a deep understanding of your company’s business.
    The same goes for the industry. For example, in my role I need to know the ins and outs of what’s happening in public relations, the latest news from our competitors and new developments and trends that might impact our business. It’s important to become an expert in your field so you understand and can speak with accuracy and authority to internal and external audiences. As a bonus, you will be seen as a vital asset and go-to person for others within the company who may have questions on what you’ve learned!
  2. Develop excellent writing skills. Whatever tasks are thrown your way, it will most likely involve writing. From press releases to internal announcements to case studies, I spend most of my days writing and editing various communications materials. Being able to write well is one of the most important skills a PR professional should have (this is also applicable to other PR roles). Your writing will improve over time but definitely take advantage of every opportunity to practice. If a colleague needs an email or press release drafted, offer to take a stab at it. Once it’s finalized, ask to see the final version so you can compare it to your draft and see what changes were made. This will help you learn what you need to improve upon for next time.
  3. Network. Get to know as many people inside and outside the company as you can. Networking is an important tool we hear about time and time again, but it’s truly essential in the corporate communications role. Start building relationships from day one with your colleagues. I’ve been given the opportunity to support new business pitches, award submissions and media relations efforts across practices and across offices. With each project, I am introduced to someone new, and that person becomes a great resource for the future when a similar project or request arises. The same is true externally. I’ve built relationships with PR trade journalists in order gain visibility in the media. Most importantly, don’t just reach out to someone when you need something; show an interest in their job, and figure out how you can work together so you can both meet your goals.

Have you ever considered doing PR for a PR agency? What other questions would you ask?


Stephanie ManasStephanie Manas is a corporate communications specialist/senior account executive at Ogilvy Public Relations, providing business development and internal and external relations support to the global communications agency. Previously, she held positions in theatrical PR at Boneau/Bryan-Brown and book publicity at Penguin Group USA. Prior to that, Manas interned at FleishmanHillard, The Broadway League and 451 Marketing. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communication and economics from Boston University. Manas is the co-chair of the marketing committee for PRSA-NY. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter. For more information on Manas, check out her recent Q&A in Syracuse University’s Newhouse PR blog.

If You Don’t Tell Your Organization’s Story, Someone Else Will

Typewriter with Once Upon a TimeIn an age when practically everyone carries the latest model of a mobile device, when breaking news is always a glance away and one company’s misstep can spread like wildfire across the country in a matter of only minutes, it is essential that organizations can effectively communicate their stories, before someone else does for them.

Find Real Stories

The foundation of telling your organization’s story well is to start with finding a story: a real story. Every organization has a story to tell. Even the smallest or seemingly mundane organization has some unique attribute hidden in its history, conception, product, obstacles or successes. As public relations professionals, our job is to unearth these stories and nuances that set organizations apart.

Often best captured by simple anecdotes that reflect organizational values, character and image, your story needs to emulate who you are and what sets you apart. If these stories do not automatically surface, it’s up to you to discover what those differentiations are and effectively communicate them to your audience through authentic communication.

It is important to note, that while a particular instance or fact may seem like an excellent beginning to your brand’s story, even the most interesting tale can stop you in your tracks if it is not consistent with your brand message or values. If you cannot directly link your story to your brand, the message will quickly become diluted and serve as a detriment because of inconsistencies and confusion about who you are and your values. If your story lacks brand consistency or clarity, it’s time to revisit the purpose of finding your story.

The most successful brand stories are not fabricated or over exaggerations of the truth. They are authentic, true and a direct reflection of what the brand values.

Use Real People

Perhaps the simplest way to find a good story that emanates your company’s core character is to find real people who have real stories to tell. Be authentic while creating and refining characters in your story whom your audience will champion. These stories could come from any of your stakeholders, including people from within your organization, one of your clients or even someone in your community. A plethora of compelling content is not necessary in order to communicate your story well. A few unique anecdotes can be more than enough to convey everything about your brand and company culture.

Once you have the story that captures the essence of who you are, what comes next? The mistake many organizations make is convoluting the clarity of their story by hiring an actor or appointing a spokesperson to tell it for them. Consider the purpose of why you originally chose to discover and tell your story; this solution produces the opposite effect.

Did your retired co-founder inherit the shop location of your now nationally recognized bakery chain from a famous pastry artist? Bring her back in for an interview. Make her and what her story means for your organization the focus of your next campaign.

People connect to real stories that evoke authentic emotion. The more willing you are to humanize your stories, the more you can relate to your audience and your audience can relate to you.

Be Authentic

Bottom line: there is trust in transparency.

In this day and age, nothing is hidden. No bad business decision, unethical practice or poor treatment of customers can be concealed. It is only a matter of time before the truth is revealed, and when it is, who would you rather have controlling the conversation: you, the public or even your competition? An honest apology or explanation of the truth can earn the respect of your audience and has the potential to deter ruthless scrutiny, even if that scrutiny is unfounded.

When crafting your story, be as open and honest with your audience as you can be, because openness is equal to trust. Actively disclosing information to your constituents about your company and its products or services is perhaps the most powerful means of establishing and building trust with your audience. Don’t forget to ask yourself the hard questions and answer them before others have the opportunity to answer them for you.

In the end, the key element to telling your organization’s story well is simple: the truth. The most powerful and meaningful brand stories are derived from honesty and openness. When you tell your story by using authenticity and real people to tell those stories, you will establish more than just trust with your stakeholders—you will create passionate brand advocates who believe in your brand and its mission.


Kristen SyndramKristen Syndram is a public relations graduate from Illinois State University and a public relations and communications professional in the central Illinois area. She has gained professional communications experience by working with both Fortune 50 companies as well as boutique agencies and specializes in public relations, media relations and social media. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter