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.

 

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.

Facebook Pixel: Diving into Analytics

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By: Cait Crenshaw

If you’re a PR professional dipping into the world of digital media, the learning curve can be daunting. Don’t let the jargon of website code or analytics deter you. Digital analytics are powerful because we can prove an ROI and use the data to make creative adjustments. The Facebook pixel is a tool everyone should mobilize if you are running Facebook ads.

What’s a pixel? The Facebook pixel is a piece of code, and because it’s code it is not for PR professionals to shy away from. Within the Facebook ads manager, you can activate a pixel for your account and grab the code. The next step is when your team’s website guru comes in and installs the pixel code on your website.

It is possible to get more granular with a Facebook pixel. Facebook has given us nine different events for nine different actions that someone may take on your website. Keep in mind the Facebook pixel should align with the overall goal of the Facebook advertising campaign. Are you driving traffic to view specific content on the website, make a purchase, or sign-up through a form? Choose the goal of your Facebook ad campaign before making any other decisions.

By far the best advantage from using a Facebook pixel is custom audiences. Since Facebook can see when someone visits your website with the pixel, you can mold your audience in ads manager even more granular than audience targeting. With the pixel, it’s possible to retarget people who visited a particular page or who visited during a specific time. For clients on a deadline or e-commerce clients, these custom audiences can translate into ROI.

The Facebook pixel also provides powerful insight into how and where people interact with your Facebook ad. Are most people interacting with it from mobile or desktop? Little tweaks to the creative image or copy of a Facebook ad can give your message the competitive edge in the noisy online world that resonates with your audience.

What actionable insights can your team gain from launching a Facebook pixel?

Cait Crenshaw is a PRSA member and Communications Manager at Signature HealthCARE. She is an alumna of the University of Louisville. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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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: Hanna Porterfield

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Name: Hanna Porterfield
Position/Company:
Senior Account Executive at Development Counsellors International
Location: New York, NY
Education: B.S. in Advertising and Specialization in Public Relations, Michigan State University
Social Media Handle: @citygirlhanna

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?
It’s funny, I was always reading and writing growing up, but never thought of it as a career because I didn’t necessarily want to be author. I began college as a mathematics major, with a goal to be an actuary. While that didn’t work out, loving numbers still comes in handy for calculating results and ROI of work. After changing my major I looked into advertising and marketing. Public relations was a specialization at the time, and the more I learned, the more it became for me. Internships and PRSSA involvement solidified my career choice.

How did you find internships/jobs?
Well, for internships I looked at my college job website and internship websites that I can’t even remember the name of (and they’ve probably since changed and been updated!). The question I think people actually want answered as a new professional is how to find a full-time position that will launch their career. For this, it takes time; looking for a job can be a full-time job, with late nights sending resumes, cover letters and follow-up notes all while you’re in school or working. I suggest setting up job alerts so that you can get potential positions emailed to you and all of your time isn’t spent going down a rabbit hole searching. LinkedIn and PRSA are good for this. Also think outside the box – literally every type of business needs PR.

I found my first (and current) job by putting my all into it. This means you’re going to have to make sacrifices. For me, that meant setting up 10 interviews during my senior year spring break and paying my way to New York City. When asked in an interview why I wasn’t on the beach, I said I could go to the beach the rest of my life, but I wanted a career in NYC. It paid off and I had two job offers before graduation.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
One that comes to mind is when my first boss quit about a year and a half after I’d been at my company. It seemed like the end of the world to have a manager I liked and respected leaving so soon. In the end, it was for the better. Having a team member leave–while probably increasing workload–will ultimately give you an opportunity to step up to the plate and grow. For me, that resulted in my first promotion and an even more supportive manager than I previously had.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?
The most valuable things I’ve learned for my career have been though experience, not school, without hesitation. While college classes provide a good foundation, you cannot learn without doing. I cant stress enough the value of internships and your first jobs. When asked to present to public relations classes at my alma mater, I always share case studies of projects I’ve worked on, and try to apply to the topics in their textbooks.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?
The best piece of advice I’ve received is simply to work hard. My dad instilled the word ‘industrious’ in our family, and that’s really motivated me to work hard no matter what I’m doing, in my career or otherwise.

Do you have any advice for PR pros early in their career?
Keep learning. It’s amazing how much can change in the PR industry just within a couple of years being in it. Read industry news and blogs, and keep any certifications you might have up to date. Bring up professional development budget in your annual salary reviews.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?
Having a network of PR professionals across the country who are going through similar things as you in their career. From Twitter and LinkedIn to MyPRSA, there’s no shortage of ways to get in touch with other members. While mentors are an important part of your career trajectory, being able to bounce ideas off people who are in a similar role to you, but at a different company, is helpful. Plus, make the connections now and run the world together later!

Is there anything you wish you would have known before becoming a new professional?
Outside of the actual office setting and your first career, I wish I would’ve known to keep balance and that it’s okay to say no to things. I have been extremely involved with lots of organizations during college and since graduating, but am just now learning how to balance priorities and make time for myself. You need time to rejuvenate to thrive. Put your all into organizations and side projects you’re passionate about, but don’t spread yourself too thin. For me, serving PRSA is one of those priorities.

Name one little-known thing about yourself.
I won my hometown’s Punt Pass and Kick in 6th grade for females and went on to the regional competition.

Hanna Porterfield is Chair of PRSA’s New Pros Section and a senior account executive at Development Counsellors International in New York. She is a graduate of Michigan State University. Connect with her on Twitter @citygirlhanna.

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