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.

 

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.

Congratulations to the PRSSA National Committee

PRSSA National

The PRSA New Professionals Committee would like to congratulate our 2018-2019 PRSSA National Committee members. We know they’ll accomplish much as members of this committee and as leaders for the future of Public Relations as they progress through their careers. 

NEW YORK (March 14, 2018) —The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) announced the election of its 2018–2019 National Committee during its annual National Assembly in Miami, March 8–11.

More than 200 students and advisers from across the country and the world converged in Miami for the four-day meeting. During the Assembly, attendees participated in career- and leadership-training events, and learned about the Society, their member benefits, how to pitch public relations, and networked with their peers and public relations professionals.

The 2018–2019 National Committee, which begins its one-year term on June 1, 2018, will be led by National President Andrew Young, of Middle Tennessee State University. Young previously served as vice president of external affairs.

New National Committee members also include:

  • Vice President of Career Services: Alyssa Murtagh, Ohio University
  • Vice President of Chapter Development: Nicholas Goebel, University of Florida
  • Vice President of Digital Communications: Briana Spears, Millersville University
  • Vice President of External Affairs: Rosa Ambriz, Texas State University
  • Vice President of Member Services: Trevor Rayhons, University of Northern Iowa
  • Vice President of Professional Development: Ashleigh Kathryn, University of South Florida
  • Vice President of Events and Fundraising: Ryan Will, North Carolina State University
  • Immediate Past President: Andrew Cook, Brigham Young University*

*This is a regular transition from the presidency.

About the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA)

The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) is the foremost organization for students interested in public relations and communication. Founded in 1968 by its parent organization, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), PRSSA includes more than 10,000 student members and advisers and is active on more than 350 college and university campuses.

Managing Up: What Does That Even Mean?

managing-up

Stat: 85% of millennial managers worldwide have moved into management in the past five years (Ernst & Young).

Coming from a new professional classified as a millennial, and who recently moved into a management position last year, this is a terrifying daunting statistic.

Making the transition from an early-staged new professional to a mid-level new professional can happen before you even realize. Nonetheless, you still must be prepared as you make this transition to set yourself up for success (and ensure minimal stress-induced sugar binges).

What could this new transition include . . .

Overseeing staff? Say what?

Giving hard feedback instead of only receiving it? You’ve crossed the line, Greg!

Managing up? What does that even mean?

These are all questions we have to face as we produce solid work and move up the professional ladder, whether we’re ready or not. Let’s focus on the last of those three facets of mid-level new professionalism: managing up.

I was fortunate enough to deliver a presentation at 2017’s PRSA International Conference with two of my fellow colleagues (“colleagues” is what you say when you’ve transitioned into mid-level new professionalism, by the way) from the PRSA New Professionals Executive Committee. The topic in which we delivered captivating content to our session attendees? You guessed itmanaging up.

I’ll let you look over the presentation on your own time HERE (there are some pretty interesting stats and tips in there), but I want to pull out two main points:

  1. Managing up, the act of managing upwards to your superiors, is not something that’s often taught outside of real-world experience (and even that’s if you’re lucky).
  2. When done well, managing up takes foresight, strong two-way communication and a grounded perspective.

“But Greg, you say it’s only taught in the real world? I’m in dire need of this skill; where can I learn more?!”

Well, I just happen to know of the perfect event to recommend and it’s coming up next Wed., Jan. 24 from 3 – 4 p.m. EST in the form of a virtual teleseminar!

This session, PRSA New Pros’ first of the year and entitled Maximize Your Career Potential by Learning to Manage Up, will be presented by Scott W. Thornburg, APR.

This session is a crash course on managing up and you’ll end being armed with tangible takeaways! I met Scott last October and I’m so excited to hear what advice he’ll be offering attendees. Needless to say, I’ll be showing up with my Do Not Disturb active on my phone and the door shut to my office (no distractions, you know, as a mid-level new professional you’re now being pulled in 200 different directions both upward and downward).

>> REGISTER FOR THE TELESEMINAR HERE <<

So register, buckle up and get ready for a worthwhile learning experience to rock your mid-week next Wednesday.

With that kind of hype, how could you not register?

jan-24_teleseminar

greg-rokisky

Greg works full-time as the Marketing Manager for the Michigan Association of School Boards, as well as a freelance creative services consultant. With several years of strategic communications experience, he specializes in digital and creative marketing and public relations. His experience spans agency, corporate and nonprofit arenas. He serves as the social media co-chair for both the New Professional and Association/Nonprofit PRSA sections. When he’s procrastinating not working he enjoys pretending he’s Twitter famous @GregRokisky and checking off items on his never-ending Goodreads shelves.

Leadership Outside of the Office

Maybe you were a leader when you were in PRSSA, or honed your leadership skills through your on-campus involvement. Now that you’re a new professional, you get to start anew and take your leadership to another level. Natural-born leader or not, there are many ways to exercise your leadership outside of the workplace.

Leaders share their wealth of knowledge with others.

PRSA and similar organizations

Local PRSA Chapters and New Pros committees are always looking for new leadership. I always hear from seasoned PR professionals that New Pros are the future of every organization, so why wait until later when you can start making an impact today?

Every organization needs strong leaders to help make crucial decisions. The best way to get your foot through the door in PRSA leadership is by leading in a committee or undertaking a big event/workshop. It’s a great way to network and get some name recognition if you hope to join the board of directors one day.

Local nonprofits and philanthropies

Most nonprofits are in need of an extra hand, and what better way to cure that do-gooder itch than to lend your expertise to a local nonprofit? Find a cause that you’re passionate about, rally up volunteers and lead the cause calling your name. If there isn’t a cause that piques your interest, start one.

There are so many ways to give back to the community: food drives, local politics, animal shelters and the list goes on. Find an area that could benefit from your expertise. A lot of millennials care about cause-driven movements, so finding people to join the effort shouldn’t be too difficult.

Share your knowledge

Leaders share their wealth of knowledge with others. Leaders also build others up, which brings up the quality of people around them. Not only does this extend your authority on the topic of leadership, but it also helps aspiring leaders learn from you. This could include speaking at a PRSA workshop, PRSSA meeting or offering advice at an organization that helped you get to where you are right now.

Even if you don’t think you’re the strongest leader around, these are great ways to become one. If you believe you’re a great leader, bring those qualities to the table and make something better.

Gemrick Curtom_LinkedIn

Gemrick Curtom is a member of the PRSA New Professionals Committee and the PRSA Houston Chapter. He is a University of Houston alum and currently resides in Houston, TX. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.