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.

Member Spotlight: Jon Kovach Jr.

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Name: Jon Kovach Jr.
Position/Company: Manager of Innovation
Location: Heber City, Utah
Education: Communication & Business, Utah Valley University
Social Media Handle: @jonkovachjr

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?
While earning my associates degree in business at the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, UT, a two-year trade school, I took a class entitled “Business Communications” where I learned the essential tools for strategic messaging. While in the class, we were challenged to send a letter of request to our supervisors and to generate feedback. Applying all that I had learned from class and from the text book, I crafted a message asking for a raise and generating a leadership position promotion for myself. I was granted the job and the raise upon my request. It was then I discovered my passion for business communication and it was both several instructors of mine who insisted I study public relations.

How did you find internships/jobs?
During my undergrad, I completed 5 internships with several national and international brands including: Cotopaxi (an online, outdoor retailer), Coldwell Banker Commercial Advisors in Salt Lake City, and Spectrum Science Communications in Washington, D.C.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced yet in my career has been taking the leap from one industry of comfort to another new and interesting industry. Though public relations and corporate communication can be virtually equivalent in it’s demands, the adjustments in creativity and strategy have really stretched me as a professional and has challenged me to learn more and more every day.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?
The most valuable thing I’ve learned is quality-created relationships is vital to your success. You can pitch ideas all day. You can write up media alerts and construct strategies all day long. But without true, quality relationships brokered through trust, interest and respect, you cannot truly succeed.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?
The best advice I have receive is to couple your learning between mentor and mentee relationships with the power of a mastermind group or accountability group. I’ve learned that mentors aren’t always going to be the Master Yoda’s in your life. Therefore, learning all that you can from mentor figures, researching their every move, and applying what you learned is only half the effort. You don’t just need a mentor in life. You need a mastermind group to hold you accountable to your goals and to achieve the success inspired to you by your mentors. In the past 12 months and because of the accountability in my mastermind group, I have written a book, pre-launched a podcast, started two businesses, and have climbed the ranks in my profession.

Do you have any advice for future PR pros?
Be curious. Ask lots of questions. Be willing to go out into the world and learn. Develop a habit of researching everything. Become a master Googler. Without natural curiosity and a hunger to learn, you will face the same mundane patterns in your life. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. In order to achieve things, you’ve never done before, you must take action in ways you’ve never done before.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?
The greatest benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section is the MyPRSA Communities. I love pushing out questions to the general body of professionals in PR throughout the globe in MyPRSA. It is the closest thing to a virtual mastermind for PR pros. I use this discussion board so often because I always get feedback from different people and have wonderful, educated discoveries from those who have experience.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting your career?
If I knew everything then my career wouldn’t be fulfilling. No. Your career is something you need to strive to learn new things every day. I read about a book per week. With each new book and the many discoveries, I find new ways to increase my professionalism and develop stronger relationships.

Tell us a little-known fact about yourself.
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 12 years old. It started with helping my mom with a vending machine business. Then I had a lawn care business at age 14. At age 16, I became a local DJ and Master of Ceremonies. Hundreds of events later, I have dabbled in international micro financing. Currently, I own a recreational tackle football league in Utah, a network marketing team through 3-Worx, and a private consulting business for professional development and strategic business planning. I also travel and do public speaking to various groups and organizations. So many things to learn and try so that I can be a better professional in PR and communication.

If you are interested in being featured, or interested in nominating someone to be featured as a part of our #MemberSpotlight, please complete the following form.

 

Member Spotlight: Cait Crenshaw

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Name: Cait Crenshaw
Position/Company: Communications Manager at Signature HealthCARE
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Education: M.A. Communication from University of Louisville
Social Media Handle: @Cait_Crenshaw

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?
I changed my mind about my career twice, without ever changing my major. Changing from high school English teacher, I discovered a real love for journalism and storytelling in college. I was hooked. I spent entire weekends in the basement office of our university newspaper. After a few years, I realized it is the storytelling, editing, details, and strategic planning that I love and switched to corporate communications.

How did you find internships/jobs?
My professors were my best resource for internships. I checked our university career center’s listings and department’s listings, too. Actually, one of my professors recommended me for an internship, and that internship led to my current job. I found my full-time job when someone I had previously worked with during an internship emailed me the application. It was a fit!

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career so far has been when someone, who had power and pull at the organization I worked for at the time, said, “Oh, she can’t do it. That’s not what she does.” I felt deflated for a moment, but the experience taught me an important lesson.

The experience taught me to create growing opportunities for myself. Instead of waiting for an invitation to sit at the table, I flipped my thinking and directly asked for a seat at the table.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?
Working hard is important but working smarter and strategically is even better. School only required me to do the work but starting my career has challenged me to work smarter. I start every week with a list. The things that I can automate in Outlook I do.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?
At the end of my very first internship, my boss gave me an honest evaluation, and I am incredibly thankful for her. I don’t remember any of her compliments or praises, but I do remember her telling me, almost commanding me, “Take more risks.”

Also, it’s not really advice, but here is a favorite of mine, especially when I think about the future of my career. A wise professor in my master’s program at the University of Louisville said, “People work for daily meaning, as well as daily bread.”

Do you have any advice for future PR pros?
Be a sponge and learn. Ever have a meeting where afterwards you google the acronyms they were using? Oh, just me, okay. The point is there are limitless resources to learn at our fingertips. We just have to grab one, learn, and apply it.

Also, your greatest asset is the ability to adapt and communicate at different levels of an organization and with different types of people.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?
In the New Pros section, I like that I am connected to people who have or are going through the same professional growing pains. There isn’t a time when I login to PRSA and do not learn something new. In an industry that changes so quickly, learning from other pros is a big resource.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting your career?
I wish I would have had a better sense of the things no one wants to talk about, such as salary negotiation and time off. My tendency is to work, work, and work, so the idea of work life balance is very much still in-progress for me.

Tell us a little-known fact about yourself.
My first job was working as a soccer referee at the age of 13.

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If you are 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

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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!

Member Spotlight: Robyn Rudish-Laning

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Name: Robyn Rudish-Laning
Position/Company: Senior Manager, Marketing for Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA)
Location: Washington, DC
Education: B.A. in Public Relations, Duquesne University
M.S. in Media Arts & Technology, focus in Creative Media Practices, Duquesne University
Social Media Handle: @robyn_rl

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?
When I was in high school. My first job was waitressing at a small restaurant in my hometown and towards the end of my junior year of high school, I started coming up with ideas to reach more people in the community and engage with customers through community events, promoting specials, using social media, connecting with the local newspaper and helping our happy customers to spread the word. Since we were a small staff, I took on the responsibility of planning & executing these ideas too. When it came time to look for colleges and think about what I was interested in the following year, I already had a pretty good idea & looked for schools specifically for their PR programs, not just general communications. Everything I learned while pursuing my degrees and on the job has only made me more curious.

How did you find internships/jobs?
I came up with a list of places I wanted to intern and hit the ground running applying and figuring out if I knew anyone who could help me get in the door. That method worked and I landed my first internship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Pittsburgh. Everything after that I’ve found by just being open to opportunities and making sure my network knew that I was interested in new things, even if I was enjoying what I was doing at the time. I found my last two jobs by making connections through PRSA, particularly local chapters, and being honest that I was new in the area and looking for a new opportunity.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
Learning how to be the one making the plan and communicating the importance of a comprehensive communications strategy to guide the communications, PR and marketing efforts. Taking things from tactical and responsive to strategic and proactive is tough, especially when you’re not exactly in a decision-making role. The experience I had gained through volunteering for my PRSA chapter was incredibly helpful in knowing what needed to be done and the importance of a forward-thinking strategy. I’m also grateful for the guidance of more experienced PRSA members who often offered to be a sounding board for ideas and mentors.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?
I think learning to speak up and how to be a leader have been the most valuable things I’ve learned. It’s easy to say “I don’t have enough experience” or “what do I know, this person probably knows better than I,” but that’s not always the case. There’s no such thing as too little experience when it comes to leading or coming up with new ideas. The most dangerous trap anyone can fall into is believing that just because something has always been done one way, that you shouldn’t shake it up once in a while.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?
“Give yourself some time and give yourself some hope.” – PRSA’s 2017 National Chair Jane Dvorak while speaking to a mixed group of SCPRSA and PRSSA members at the University of South Carolina.

Do you have any advice for future PR pros?
Practice, practice, practice. You can never learn too much. Volunteer, take on some pro bono work, take on new roles and responsibilities in internships and jobs – whether the job is in the profession or not, everything uses communications in some way. Get into a habit of learning whenever you can and being inquisitive. The more time and energy you invest in yourself and your career, the better the returns will be and the more likely an employer is to invest in you and helping you develop your skills.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?
Definitely the opportunities to network, get involved and lead. It’s incredibly easy to turn down opportunities to get involved and lead by thinking that lack of experience is a barrier, but being a part of the New Pros section has shown me otherwise. We’re a group of pros with five years of experience or less, so it’s a pretty level playing field and there’s plenty of room for everyone to get involved in some way. Leading the section has given me the opportunity to gain experience and has boosted my confidence in my own abilities, making me more sure of myself and my work and leading me to take seize leadership opportunities in my chapter and my workplace.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting your career?
I wish I had understood the importance of practical experience and application of the theories and ideas discussed in the classroom. While it’s all important, it can be overwhelming when you’re first starting out to translate that knowledge into practice.

Tell us a little-known thing about yourself.
I once competed in a local-level preliminary Miss America pageant. My issue platform was literacy across America & I competed to prove to myself that I could & to push myself to step outside of where I was comfortable.

If you are interested in being featured, or interested in nominating someone to be featured as a part of our #MemberSpotlight, please complete the following form.

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