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.

Leadership In 2016 – Part 3

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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series by leadership and communication expert David Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA.  In the first two posts, David discussed the importance of leadership today and the keys to effective leadership (with some great input from readers of this blog!)

Leadership Is Easier When You Are Authentic

Growing up, I found myself on the “Supposed To” track.  The feelings I allowed myself to have as a child, teenager and adult were solely happy feelings; the rest of my feelings went into this black hole never to be discovered or talked about.

At age 33, I had achieved all of what I was supposed to and more, and found myself in a therapist’s office.  In talking about my challenges, I had put on the veneer of my polished, professional self.  It’s then that I grabbed the pillow next to me and clenched it to my chest.  Hard.  In that moment, there was a huge disconnect between the words I was saying and my feelings.

My therapist and I now laugh about the pillow that launched my journey of authenticity – one I wish I had started years earlier.

As we think about leadership today, starting on (or continuing on) a path toward authenticity is a way all leaders can make a difference – for themselves and for others.  Authenticity matters today.  Authentic leaders get better business results, have healthier work lives, and excel in real, meaningful relationships. They sleep better at night.

The Road Less Traveled: A Journey of Authenticity

What’s essential for your Journey of Authenticity is to come at it from a place of self-knowledge instead of coming from a place of responding to stress, worry, or anxiety.  This means being as purposeful as you can on your chosen route.

What I know from my research and consulting, as well as from interviews with senior leaders and practitioners – authenticity isn’t a skill.  It’s a component of one’s self that a person can actually accentuate or work on to become better and lead a more fulfilling life – whether it’s on the job, in your relationships, or at home.

No one really learns the skill of authenticity.  Instead, authenticity comes through by improving our communication skills as leaders.   When you come at communication from an authentic place, communication becomes much easier and much more effective.

How To Be Authentic

For me, authenticity has 3 components:

1. Know Yourself

Early in my career, I was fortunate to work with some incredibly inspiring leaders who brought out the best in me. I gravitated toward them because of how they made me feel. I trusted them because they were genuine, authentic, and because they demonstrated much more confidence in me than I had in myself. They stood for my potential, which was incredibly motivating for me as a 20-something professional, and only spurred me on to be even better.

When it was my chance to lead, I was determined to lead in a similarly authentic way. I tried to take the best strategies from each of them. After all, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Still, I made my share of mistakes as a new leader, and then I realized an important lesson:

Leading authentically isn’t about being “like” someone else. Instead, it’s about knowing yourself and being who you are. Sure, you can “try on” strategies that work for others. Yet in the end, leading authentically is about finding what works best for you. And when you are genuine, you have “full power,” which is what the Greek root of authentic—authentico—truly means.

2. Be Yourself

The second component is about acting in ways that are consistent with who you are. This is your own self-awareness as you relate to others.  This means behaving in ways that are in sync with your values instead of simply trying to please others or get something from others.

Early in my career, I acted like a chameleon, changing my thoughts and feelings based on others.  Today, I strive to be my authentic self regularly.  What it looks like and how I act really doesn’t change very much.  What does change is how I feel on the inside.  When I acted as a chameleon, I did it out of a desire for people to like me.  When I relate to others from an authentic place today, I do it with confidence.  I don’t worry that they won’t like me.  They might not, and that’s their choice – that’s okay.  I’m simply no longer consumed with the need for people to like me.

3. Have Quiet Courage As You Interact With Others

Authenticity is about this constant process of being truthful – first with yourself and then with others – to say the things that need to be said.  It can be very difficult to do it in a kind and respectful way.  Quiet courage is about saying the truth so others are able to hear it.  This isn’t “Rambo” courage but an internal kind of courage that comes from deep inside. It’s about knowing that being truthful is the only way to move people and the business forward. Failing to address the problems or areas of improvement won’t help the business succeed.

Must-Haves for Your Journey to be Authentic

If you’re up for the Journey – and I hope you are – here’s what’s important to have with you at all times:

  • First, your curiosity – You can’t be authentic without the ability to reflect and be self-aware. Your curiosity needs to be as strong – or stronger – than any of the thoughts or feelings you might be having – whether it’s concern or worry, or other much more complex feelings like fear or shame.  If you can be curious, you can look at anything.  You can say, “Hmmm… Wow, that’s interesting. Is there something worth exploring here?  Is there something I can learn about myself or others?” To get ahead in business, you need to continually learn and grow.

    Plus, curiosity will make you a better listener.  The better you listen to others, the better they will listen to you, and the better your relationships will be, including your most important relationship – the one you have with yourself.

  • Second, embrace who you are – It’s our imperfections that create connections with others. People say all the time to “let it go” – the phrase that made the movie, “Frozen,” so popular.  You can never let go what you haven’t embraced.

    You have to say, “This is mine.  I can hold it.  I can own it.  Now, I can let it go.”  And then once you really accept it, saying, “Yes, this is me.  It’s not my favorite part.  Now I can begin the process of letting it go and setting it aside.  It doesn’t really control me.”

  • Last, focus on what you can control – think about all you have control over, and focus on that. Not how your boss, colleagues, or clients behave.  Not the economy.  Not the fact that “stuff happens.”  Don’t focus on where you’re powerless to change things. Instead, focus on what you can do something about.

When In Doubt, Take A Step Back

If you find yourself stressed, or feel stuck on your Journey, just listen to yourself – to your gut.  Take a step back and try to see the forest through the trees.

When you’re approaching a mountain and are miles out, it seems really small.  When you get to the bottom of the mountain and look up, you realize it’s huge.  When life gets too big, back up a little bit.  Sometimes when you’re too close to something, it can feel overwhelming.  You feel incapacitated and can’t take the first step.  Or, the alternative strategy is to get to the base of the mountain and don’t look up; just put your nose down and start. A CEO I used to work with at McDonald’s often would say, “Jump in; the water’s fine!”

The process of looking at yourself can be very difficult in the beginning.  But the value at the other end can be so worth the process.  Very few things feel as rewarding as being who you are in the workplace.

How are you doing at leading authentically, and what’s a next step to advance your Journey?

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David Head Shot High ResDavid Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is both a teacher and student of effective leadership and communication and helps leaders drive productivity and get the results they want through authentic and courageous leadership communication. He’s a sought-after speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 leaders. A three-time author, David is CEO of The Grossman Group, an award-winning Chicago-based strategic leadership development and internal communication consultancy; clients include: Hill-Rom, Eastman Chemical Company, Kimberly-Clark, McDonald’s and Motel 6, to name a few. His newest book, “No Cape Needed: The Simplest, Smartest, Fastest Steps to Improve How You Communicate by Leaps and Bounds,” was published in the fall of 2015 and recently won the Pinnacle Book Award for the “Best in Business” category. In addition, David teaches Internal Engagement at Columbia University, in New York City. To connect with David you can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

New Pros Spotlight: PRSA Charlotte

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Connecting with other new pros is an important benefit of PRSA membership for many members. PRSA chapters across the country have organized groups within their chapter to help them connect on a local level, like the New Professionals section does nationally. We will feature a q&a each month to showcase chapters’ new professional groups. This month we spoke with Seth Kingdon, PRSA Charlotte’s New Professionals Committee Chair.

PRSA Charlotte’s New Professionals group works to plan events and workshops to help Charlotte’s young professionals gain a deeper understanding of the PR industry. The committee is made up of nine members, led by Seth.

“We, as a committee, want to cultivate great PR professionals in Charlotte. To make this happen we strive to offer helpful resources and one-of-a-kind opportunities for our members so they can blossom into successful public relations practitioners,” Seth said.

According to PRSA Charlotte New Pro member Justin Taylor, “Being part of PRSA has not only expanded my network, but has given me a great amount of support as a young professional. This support ranges from when I was a recent college graduate on the job hunt to building important skills to be successful in both my professional and personal life.”

Here are some of the questions we had for Seth about PRSA Charlotte’s New Pros group.

The Edge: Could you tell us about the programming and resources you put together for your members?

Seth Kingdon: Our committee initial began by establishing a shared vision for providing professional development opportunities for New Pros and students. We planned a networking event because we saw the value of meeting other new professionals and students in the Charlotte-metro area. We scheduled professional development workshops throughout the year because we all need tools to do our job better. Our committee’s future endeavors include establishing a mentorship program with local PRSSA chapters and pro-bono campaigns and projects.

Overall, we offer networking events and workshops. However, on a deeper level, we recruit new professionals to come to monthly PRSA Charlotte luncheons where they can meet experience PR practitioners from organizations like Duke Energy, Bank of America, Food Lion, Luquire George Andrews and Taylor. We believe mentorship drives a successful PR career, so we encourage our members to find a mentor and to be a mentor.

TE: How many members/participants do you have?

SK: It’s hard to know how many New Professionals are scattered throughout Charlotte, but approximately 20 professionals and students generally attend our meetings.

TE: How do you engage new or potential members?

SK: We each personally reach out to students and meet people at other networking events and invite them to PRSA gatherings.

TE: How does your group fit into the bigger picture of the chapter?

SK: Our New Professional section brings a unique perspective to the overall PRSA Charlotte chapter by offering millennial insight, inventive concepts and an energetic atmosphere for success.

TE: What is the best way for New Pros to get involved in the PR community?

SK: First and foremost, attend events so you can meet professionals. Second, it is important to continually build your skill set and be self-taught on important PR topics so you can offer knowledge and insight. Third, establish relationships with two or three professionals—your age and older—who are your “go to” for questions. As you do these things and progress through your professional career, you will consistently learn and be a marketable public relations professional.

TE: And finally, what advice do you have for New Pros for using PRSA to their best advantage?

SK: Meet and develop relationships with as many PR professionals as you can. Build a strong network you trust to contact with questions or advice. Especially connect with those who have more experience than you—even if it feels intimidating.

Is your chapter doing great things for New Pros? Do you know a New Pro doing great work in and outside of PRSA? Let us know!

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