PRospects for New Pros: Finding Your Footing During COVID-19 and Beyond

On Wednesday, April 7, 2021, public relations professionals came together virtually to discuss current hiring trends and how to move forward during COVID-19 and beyond. The webinar, sponsored by the New Professionals Section of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), brought together four experienced PR professionals who shared their experiences and tips with new professionals.

Webinar panelists included Taylor Bryant, an assistant professor (clinical track) in the mass communications department at the University of West Georgia; Kirk Hazlett, APR, adjunct professor of communication at the University of Tampa; Christina Stokes, Vice President and Director of Talent Acquisition at Rubenstein; and Mike Neumeier, APR, CEO of Arketi Group.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, many new professionals have struggled to find their footing, whether as new graduates looking for employment or employed new professionals looking for ways to hone relevant skills and advance their careers. Stokes said that, despite the challenges over the past year, “things are looking up.”

Bryant reminded recent graduates that the virtual workplace forced onto companies by the pandemic has created an environment where new professionals in particular can excel. “The virtual environment for us is new, but for students, they are tech savvy…you have what it takes in terms of the technical aspects.” And that’s a huge advantage.

Seek Out Professional Development Opportunities

Hazlett said that, while companies may not be hiring as much because of the pandemic, there are still ways to get ahead in your professional careers. For example, while internships are not jobs, Hazlett said, “it doesn’t hurt to add more experience to your resume.” Every panelist encouraged new professionals to find ways to use this time to take advantage of the unique opportunities provided by the pandemic, such as online conferences and certificate programs.

New professionals should specifically focus on ways to develop professionally that will help get you where you want to be in your careers. “It’s important to know your why and what. What you want to do next and why you want to do it,” said Bryant. She recommended finding a few desirable jobs and looking at their roles, responsibilities, and required skills, and then taking a look at where you can improve and get professional development in those areas. “It’s like mapping your career,” said Bryant.

Make Networking Part of Your Plans

As part of your professional growth, new professionals should focus on networking and making connections. “I believe in authentic connections,” said Bryant. “Focus on building genuine relationships. People are more likely to recommend you when they know you and have a real relationship with you.”

Stokes emphasized the benefit of using LinkedIn to stay connected once you’ve established those relationships. “Stay connected to them…it takes work, but opportunities will come to you that will help elevate you in your career.” Neumeier added that networking “is a numbers game, like the lottery. If you don’t play, you can’t win.”

Neumeier also said that being part of groups like the PRSA New Professionals Section is key because “these are your peers. These are the people you’re going to grow up in the industry with…take advantage of that and use your network,” said Neumeier.

Aside from insights into professional growth and networking, panelists also provided advice for landing jobs early in your new professionals’ careers.

Interviewing Insights for New Pros

When it comes to interviewing, Bryant says to practice. She recommended writing down a list of essential things you want your potential employer to know about you, and then compare that to common interview questions so you can practice making sure those essential points come up during the interview.

Hazlett said that potential candidates make an impression when they come prepared to ask their own questions.

Stokes added, “Interviewing is a conversation with a potential colleague. So look at it that way and it might make you feel more comfortable.” She also recommended doing research about the interviewer and the company. “What’s interesting about them to you and why? I love having a conversation with a candidate and learning what they’re interested in about the company,” said Stokes.

Virtual interviews can present its own set of challenges, but the panelists encouraged new professionals to make the most of it. Make sure your room is clean and that what the camera captures is professional. Virtual interviews can be problematic, but panelists say that’s just part of how things are. “We’re at a weird time where home is work and work is home and the lines are blurred. The reality is that you can’t avoid crying kids or the dog barking in the background…so I like to see how they navigate that…Use your unique environment to your advantage,” said Stokes.

Even with the challenges created by the pandemic, there are ways for new professionals to find their footing and progress in their professional careers. Find a way to get started and move forward. “Get a job, even if it’s not your dream job. Perform well, learn what you like, and your career will develop,” said Neumeier.

What You Should Know As a PRSA New Professional

Becoming a member of PRSA is more than just skimming the daily emails. To truly benefit from being a part of PRSA, we have three tips to help you thrive as a new professional in the nation’s leading professional organization serving the communications community.

Understand the Purpose of PRSA

PRSA has about 30,000 members in all 50 states. With over 110 Chapters and 14 Professional Interest Sections, PRSA is focused on connecting, supporting, and serving the needs of PR professionals nationwide. Through an emphasis on advocating for industry excellence and ethical conduct, PRSA provides members with professional development opportunities, the latest news and research, and resources to help PRSA members become leaders and mentors in their fields.

Know Your Member Benefits

As a member of PRSA, you will receive the latest news and information from PR professionals across the nation through PRSA publications, including regular newsletters, the monthly newspaper, and the blog. Utilize these resources to stay connected on the latest trends and happenings within PR and communications.

Your PRSA membership also comes with a wealth of professional development opportunities. Check out upcoming webinars (many of them are free to members) as well as on-demand online training opportunities and workshops. If you’re looking to enhance your skill set, check out the PRSA’s certificate programs, or consider pursuing the professionally-recognized APR designation.

Don’t forget that, aside from what PRSA offers, individual chapters and professional interest sections also offer their own webinars and value-added opportunities. Keep an eye out for those through forum posts and newsletters.

Get Involved

Anyone who says that their PRSA membership wasn’t worth the cost failed to take advantage of one of the most important aspects of PRSA: the opportunity to get involved and network with a wide range of PR professionals. As a new member, take advantage of the PRSA forums by introducing yourself, asking for advice or resources, connecting to local or speciality-interest mentors, and putting yourself out there.D

If you’re looking for further service and involvement opportunities, many of the chapters and professional interest sections have need for board members and collaborators. Volunteer to serve on a board, write a blog, or contribute to a project.

PRSA also hosts its annual conference, and various chapters and professional interest sections host regular conferences and trainings as well. While those typically have registration costs in addition to your PRSA membership, they provide unique opportunities to learn and network in a PR-focused environment.

Becoming a member of PRSA shouldn’t stop with paying your membership dues and skimming the daily emails. To truly benefit from being a part of PRSA, understand what PRSA stands for, know your member benefits, and get involved.

Using Employee Narrative to Defend Corporate Reputation: Southwest Airline’s Flight 1380 Crisis Case Study

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light more than ever the need for public relation practitioners to have the proper skills in crisis communication management. While this has always been known to experienced practitioners, it makes the case for those new to the industry to see if they need more knowledge and training in this area.

One of the ways to gain more knowledge is looking back at the past and learning from these case studies.

As a part of Ball State’s online master’s in public relations curriculum, students are required to take leadership courses — one being dedicated to case studies. The work completed by our students not only builds their critical analysis skills of how professionals handle public relations issues in global, digital and ethical contexts, but also provides an opportunity for recognition.

Two of my graduate students won third place in the 2020 Page Student Case Study Competition for their case study, “’Nothing to Hide.’ That’s Southwest. Navigating Crises Fast and Well With Human Stories in the Era of Misinformation.”

The case study took a deep dive into Southwest’s response to Flight 1380’s mid-air emergency, where the aircraft’s left engine exploded shortly after takeoff, causing the plane to plummet toward the ground. Shrapnel from the explosion broke through a passenger’s window, creating a vacuum that sucked her body halfway out of the plane before other passengers could pull her back inside to administer CPR. The crew managed an emergency landing, but the incident left one passenger dead and eight others with non-critical injuries.

Already known for its mission of “Transfarency,” Southwest maintained their core principle of transparency throughout the entirety of the crisis. During and in the immediate aftermath of this crisis, the airline remained transparent with its public, regularly communicating updates regarding the situation via press releases, Tweets, press conferences, sympathy letters, videos, inspection updates, compensation packages and blog posts.

After the incident, crew members and passengers of Flight 1380 were featured on various media outlets as a part of a media tour. Through the stories shared by crew and passengers, a narrative of faith and trust developed in Southwest’s messaging. These reputation tactics are only a few examples of what helped the airline recover from the crisis and gain back the public’s trust.

Studying how corporations and organizations respond to the public during times of crisis can provide a way to diversify your skills and critical thinking in your current and future public relations career. Employers are always seeking candidates with these sets of skills. If you think you may need more education or experience to help further your career, consider pursuing your master’s degree.

Ball State’s master’s in public relations is entirely online, so you can continue working while earning your degree. What you learn in our courses can be applied to your career the very next day.

Interested? Apply today. Applications for the 2021 Spring semester are due January 5, 2021. Use the code PRMA2020 before December 31, 2020 to waive the $60 application fee.

 

 

Dr. YoungAh Lee is an associate professor and Graduate Studies Director in the Department of Journalism. Her approach to public relations emphasizes the role of reputation, believing that businesses succeed best when they align their communication and business goals.

To learn more about Dr. Lee and Ball State University, visit the university’s Department of Journalism.

LinkedIn: Dr. YoungAh Lee

 

ICON 2020: Offerings for New Pros

PRSA’s international conference is going virtual this year, and that means it’s more affordable than ever for new public relations pros to attend. Forget the travel fees and business cards — all you need to attend ICON 2020 is a reliable computer, a clock set to EDT*, decent internet and your event registration.

From Oct. 26 through Oct. 29, attendees can expect to learn from educational offerings, virtually explore exhibit halls and network with professionals from all over the world.

Not sure where to start? Here are our top, relevant offerings for PRSA New Pros to attend.

Day One: Oct. 26

After attending the 10 a.m. ICON Orientation to make the most of your virtual experience, hop on over to the 11 a.m. Opening General Session. ICON’s keynote speaker, Jon Meacham, is described as “one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals.” Listen in to find out why.

After that, join The Future Is Now: Recruiting, Retaining and Developing Future PR leaders From Millennials and Generation Z with our very own National New Pros Committee Membership Chair Landis Tindell! He’ll share insights about New Pros with co-speaker Eric Wilson.

At 1:30 p.m., check out Exploring Advocacy, Activism and Related Trends (And What They Might Mean for Your Organization) as you consider how businesses are responding — and which ones you want to work for in the future. 2:30 p.m. begins Navigating Through Crisis With Confidence: Lessons in Crisis Management From COVID-19, which promises to share timely lessons learned.

Attend CCO Therapy: Tips, Tricks and Advice for New (and Aspiring) Communications Leaders at 3:30 p.m. for best leader practices and consider meeting a few industry veterans at the Opening Night Reception from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Day Two: Oct. 27

The second day of ICON kicks off with Carolynn Johnson, chief executive officer of DiversityInc Media LLC and today’s keynote speaker taking the (virtual) stage at 11 a.m. Next, Bridging the Integration Gap: How Communications and Marketing Can Work Together to Create a Unified Brand Strategy will give real collaborative insight into how you’ll work with Marketing as a public relations pro at 12:45 p.m., though you may consider skipping out early to attend the Silver Anvil Awards at 1:45 p.m. and get a close look at what we consider exceptional work.

Humanizing Communications: How To Create Thoughtful and Inclusive Narratives at 3:30 p.m. focuses on incorporating diverse voices and recognizing unconscious biases. After that, the schedule is wide open for you to attend the Diversity & Inclusion Celebration: Transforming the Landscape event taking place at 6:30 p.m.

Day Three: Oct. 28

Keynote speaker and author of How to Lose the Information War, Nina Jankowicz, will open ICON at 11 a.m. What Every PR Pro Needs To Know About SEO prepares New Pros at 12:30 p.m. with ways to boost search engine optimization. Attorney and keynote speaker Lata Nott is known for sharing insights relating to the freedom of expression and internet speech policy, and will be speaking at 1:30 p.m.

3:10 p.m. reveals many relevant sessions for New Pros, but we think the most promising is Grace Under Pressure: Balancing Human Dignity With the Media Frenzy Around the Coronavirus. Not only will it center on COVD-19 crisis communications, but it’ll specifically tackle tough topics like neutralizing hostile audiences in the heat of the moment and dealing with “fake news” in real-time.

Sessions that look ahead often provide inspiration for our own day-to-day (especially as new professionals who may not have much experience to draw on), and The Future of PR: Today’s Trends That Shape the Profession of Tomorrow at 4:10 p.m. does just that.

Next is networking! If that’s an area you struggle with, never fear — you can easily mix and mingle at the Expo Hall Exhibitor Reception and Virtual Happy Hour. Don’t be afraid to jump into public and private chat rooms from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Day Four: Oct. 29

Our final keynote speaker features Laurie Garrett, an award-winning science writer and author speaking at 11 a.m. The Upside of Downturn: Unlocking the Hidden Benefits of Crisis at 12:30 p.m. offers opportunities to prepare before a crisis (and explains why crisis comms is nothing to run away from).

At 1:30 p.m., Insights on Inclusion: Addressing Covering and Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace tackles very real problems for New Pros and discusses why there’s always room (and a need!) for inclusion in the workplace. A Candid Conversation on the Impact and Challenges of COVID-19 to Hospitals, VA and Health Insurance Providers will feature a panel at 2:30 p.m. with four guests talking about very real public relations challenges they continue to face in the time of COVID-19.

Whether you’re on the hunt for a job or have already secured one, Strategically Developing and Promoting You, Your Image and Your Career: A Career Action Plan Workshop at 3:30 p.m. will offer best practices for navigating your career. The final event takes place at 4:30 p.m., and Finding Resiliency for Your Membership and Yourself During a Pandemic is a great way to end ICON with the confidence and information you need in 2020.

Now that you’ve seen our recommendations, take a look at ICON’s full schedule yourself to make sure you don’t miss any sessions that may better pique your interest. Every offering available on the schedule has been hand-picked by PRSA, and will only benefit you to attend. The sessions listed here may be best for New Pros just getting started, but only you can decide which events will specifically benefit you most.

See you at the conference!

*All listed times represent Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)

“Getting Involved in PRSA” from a New Pro

Getting fully involved in PRSA may seem like a scary thing – joining a new organization, let alone trying to be active in it isn’t always easy. If you’re anything like me, you may not feel like you should interject because you’re a new young professional and don’t feel like you have enough experience to be involved with practitioners of 15+ years. I am here to tell you that PRSA at the local, district, and national level are ready to welcome you with open arms! They are always looking for young professionals to be involved, because young professionals are the future of the profession and the organization.

If you’re interested in starting to do more than just attend meetings or follow PRSA social media channels, here’s how you can start!


Local Level

The first and probably most impactful way to get involved is to start with your local chapter. As a member of the Oklahoma City chapter and committee chair, my involvement got started when I moved to Oklahoma City in 2017. After attending a couple meetings, I decided I wanted to help serve the chapter. If you already have a connection with someone on the board, reach out to them and ask if there is somewhere you can serve. If you don’t know anyone (like I did), contact the chapter president. They’ll know exactly where the chapter needs the most help and will be willing to get you connected with the right people. Also, don’t forget to attend as many meetings/events as possible so you become a recognizable figure in your area!


District Level

Every PRSA chapter belongs to a district. Here in OKC, we belong to the Southwest District. When we’re able to attend in-person events again, keep an eye out for or ask your chapter leadership about district conferences. Most of the districts hold them annually, and it’s a great way to meet PR professionals in your area and get connected with all sorts of people. Because of my attendance at the last few Southwest District conferences, I am currently serving as the Treasurer of the Southwest District and am presenting at ICON with one of the connections I made!


National Level

There are many ways you can serve at the national level. Although it’s usually best to have some experience serving at lower levels, it never hurts to reach out to someone at the national level. For example, we are always looking for people to write for this newsletter and write for our blog. You may even want to submit something to Strategies & Tactics (PRSA’s national publication). If you’re interested in serving on the National New Pros Committee (I am the 2020 Membership Chair), reach out to one of us! We’ll be happy to point you in the right direction. Eventually you may even have the opportunity to serve on the National Executive Board.

As you can see, there are many ways to be involved in PRSA. It all starts with just asking! I highly suggest you attend as many meetings, conferences, and events as possible; especially ICON. If you’re not sure you can afford membership or conferences, check with your local chapter or district about scholarships. Also, ask your employer about paying for your membership – I promise you it’s a great investment and offers a multitude of professional development opportunities. The worst anyone can say is ‘no’ and you’ll never know until you ask!

How do you plan to get involved? Comment below or connect on LinkedIn to share your thoughts.

Landis Tindell

Landis Tindell is currently the Communications Coordinator for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education in Oklahoma City, OK. He serves as the Professional Development Day committee chair for PRSA-OKC, the treasurer for the PRSA Southwest District, and as the Membership Chair for the National New Pros Committee.

Landis holds a Bachelor in Public Relations from Harding University and is pursuing a Masters Degree in Strategic Communication from Texas Tech University. Landis was named a 2019 PRNEWS 30 Under 30 Rising Star and the 2018 Young Professional of the Year by PRSA-OKC.

LinkedIn: Landis Tindell