The Best of PR in Sunny San Deigo: Key Insights from PRSSA’s International Conference

By Alannah McDermott

This October, our San Jose State University chapter spent four fulfilling days at the PRSSA International Conference in bright and beautiful San Diego. Among many of the incredible sessions attended, our group met with influential leaders from top global public relations agencies and attended two keynote sessions with Mexico’s former president Vicente Fox and legendary Watergate reporter Bob Woodward.

This year, 14 students had the opportunity to represent SJSU and form new connections with professionals in the public relations and mass communications industry. With only a few short months left for our seniors, these are the key messages and fresh insights they will take with them into their careers! 

  1. Plan strategically and always look ahead – in your career, life and work projects!

In the global agency panel session with leaders from W20, Zeno Group, BCW and Hotwire, students learned to look at their goals with a birds-eye view to ensure the detailed and organized work will be well worth the time and energy invested. When working on a campaign, sticking to a timeline will help you stay on-track when facing a multitude of deadlines.  

For many of us, diving into a project for the first time can be daunting. Don’t be overwhelmed with the to-dos, but outline a rough draft plan and build your key relationships early on. This will serve as a guideline for those exciting ideas bouncing around the team.

President of Hotwire Global U.S. Heather Kernahan shared her secret to success with students and young professionals at the conference.

“Think in a 3-year horizon,” Kernahan said.

“Look at where you want to be in three years and make a rough sketch of how you plan to get there.” Then, with every step you take, make sure it brings you closer to the vision you have in your head!

Edelman’s Southern California General Manager Will Collie had a different and more long-term approach: looking at future career goals in the context of the next nine years. 

“Now take those nine years and visualize them in pockets of three,” Collie said.

Serving as a motivational model, his advice allows students to form goals and visions for each benchmark they reach. It also allows for flexibility while being conscious of the decisions that will affect them in the long-term. 

“When thinking strategically about your life and career, think about what you want to be known for,” said Josh Grau, Director of Corporate Outreach at Northwestern University.

He continued by sharing that students should carve a niche for themselves, whether that be as an amazing writer/storyteller, social media pro, graphic designer or a confident public speaker.

Be the person that people call when they need help in a specialized area. Invest in yourself. These skills are not only smart for your career but open your mind for growth, both personally and professionally. 

KCOMM CEO Sinan Kinatsiz believes the next generation of PR professionals should be working to achieve hard skills, including:

  • Organic SEO (search engine optimization) for keywords; 
  • Click analytics;
  • Presentation design skills; 
  • and Email marketing
  1. The key to leadership and success in PR is having compassion for people

“Lead with compassion.” – Mexico’s first president of the 21st century, Vicente Fox.

Everyone will lead in their own unique areas of life and work, but it is compassion and empathy that will set us apart as truly great leaders.

“You gain the power and capacity to lead when you love,” Fox said.

In public relations and communications, our biggest asset is relationships. If we are not passionate about the people we work for—and the people we work with—it will be challenging to form connections, and ultimately find success in this business. 

Rising in popularity is employee/internal communications. It has found a sweet-spot in the PR industry as leadership is realizing that employees are the heartbeat of the entire organization. 

“Employees need to be your FIRST audience,” said Barby K. Siegel, CEO of Zeno Group

Kanatsiz emphasized the growing importance of human connection in our outreach strategies, encouraging students to build genuine relationships with your external and internal stakeholders through social interaction, like 1:1 meetings or dinners. Meeting in-person can establish a relationship much stronger than relying on phone or email correspondence.

With the holidays approaching, Fox reminded conference-goers that the shortcut to happiness is doing for others, which can include acts of service through time or energy.

Take time to go beyond your job description: what is one thing, big or small, you can do for someone else? These are the moments that define us as leaders, teammates and friends.  

  1.  Show up, slow down and listen.

One of the most exciting parts of the conference for many of our members was hearing from Bob Woodward, the renowned journalist involved in breaking the Watergate story.

Woodward shared thoughtful pieces of advice and media insights, including one that resonated with our members the most – “The four most important words to practice using are ‘I need your help.’”

He was speaking specifically about building relationships with the people he was writing stories on, but these powerful words are relevant in all aspects of our lives as incoming professionals. 

I love the mentality of never being afraid to ask,” said Gabi Avella, PRSSA SJSU Treasurer. 

Woodward emphasized that one of the best things PR professionals and members of the media can do in our fractured political landscape is to become great listeners.

“We are in an age where we have a problem with listening,” Woodward said.

Thanks to the rise of social media, Woodward added that a new problem has emerged: rapid-fire posting. Because of the way we disseminate information quickly, everyone is now a “reporter” in their own right.

“We need to slow down and see how a situation unfolds,” he said. “Let the silence suck out the truth.”

This is especially relevant for crisis communicators, as sometimes the best strategy an organization can take in the face of a media crisis is to wait for the truth. With users on social media ready to spring into action, an organization must be prepared to calmly defend its values, refusing to add fuel to a growing fire.

Woodward continued the conversation with a profound eye-opener about how to get people comfortable enough to “spill their guts.”

“Show up,” he said. “Everybody does things online these days. We’ve got to convince people that we take them as seriously as they take themselves.” 

This, of course, takes patience, but as he pointed out: the best relationships in PR and communications always take time to build. Remembering that we are in the business of people – hosting them and telling their stories – will set the foundation for us to do impactful work. 

Take control of your path toward success! Think strategically, plan ahead, use timelines and be a pro in your specific area!

The PRSSA chapter at SJSU had a blast soaking up these incredible insights at this year’s International Conference. We can’t wait for #PRSSAIC2020 in Nashville, Tennessee!


LinkedIn and Career Workshop

6:00 p.m. Tuesday, November 19 in DBH 117

Join us for an exclusive LinkedIn and career workshop led by Jasmine Garcia and Shandy Dunn from Connext for a workshop on how to better market yourself to future employers!

Topics discussed in this workshop include:

  • Resume/LI tips (workshop)
  • Interview prep or mock interviews (workshop)
  • How to market yourself (speaking topic)
  • Consulting/Contracting as a career option post-college (we will bring one of our rockstar contractors working at one of the best companies in the valley)
  • Power Skills (a compilation of skills you need to know to be successful early on)

Following the workshop, there will be opportunities to ask questions and mingle with the professionals listed below.

Guest Speakers

Shandy Dunn,

Shandy’s first job out of college was in sales and hotel management. Now, she is the current president at Connext and specializes in leadership and management. Connect with Shandy on LinkedIn!

Jasmine Garcia,
Creative Communications Manager

Jasmine worked in PR and media relations at Ogilvy after graduating from SJSU. Now, she specializes in communications and is the Creative Communications Manager at Connext. Connect with Jasmine on LinkedIn and Twitter!



6:00 p.m. Tuesday, November 5 in DBH 117

Join leading public relations and communications practitioners who work at- or with-the top tech companies in the Bay Area. In addition to networking with light snacks and refreshments, we will be discussing topics for career readiness, including:

  • The Transition into your first full-time communications/PR job
  • Balancing personal goals with professional goals
  • Career growth in Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area
  • Ways to be active in social responsibility and diversity and inclusion
  • B2B V. B2C communications
  • Advice on interviews, getting jobs, networking, etc.

Following the panel, there will be opportunities to ask questions and mingle with the professionals listed below. Each company participating has a variety of internships and entry-level roles available throughout the year: time to get networking!

Guest Speakers

Jeannie Entin, Head of Communications

Jeannie has more than nineteen years of PR and communications experience in the Bay Area and New York City. Prior to joining Aclima, a startup building environmental intelligence for people and the planet, she was a consultant to tech companies in Silicon Valley including IBM and Udacity, managed global communications and public affairs at Google, and launched her career over a decade of serving dozens of tech, research and consumer goods clients in PR agencies including Fleishman-Hillard. Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Aubriana Muna, Senior Communications Specialist

Aubriana started as a PR intern at Edelman SF after graduating from SJSU in 2018. One year later, she now specializes in internal and external communications at Imperva. Connect with Aubriana on LinkedIn.

Lacey Haines, Worldwide Print Publicity

Over the last 15 years, Lacey has mastered the art of consumer tech storytelling and today is responsible for reinventing how HP Inc. approaches news moments, partners and influencers. Connect with Lacey on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Mariah Turner, Senior Communications Specialist

After graduating from SJSU, Mariah joined the Intuit Corporate Communications team. Now, she specializes in Diversity and Inclusion, HR communications. Connect with Mariah on LinkedIn.

Patricia OliverioLauderdale, Global Corporate Communications Manager

Following graduation, Patricia got her first job in the field at Allison+Partners. Today, Patricia specializes in Corporate Reputation PR and Diversity and Inclusion at Intel Corporation. Connect with Patricia on LinkedIn.

Sarah Storelli, Program Director, Code and Response Ecosystem Marketing

Sarah has more than seven years of experience working in PR and communications. As a Program Director at IBM, she specializes in  “tech for good ecosystem marketing.” Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn and Twitter.



6:00 p.m. Tuesday, October 29 in DBH 117

Join leading public relations and communications practitioners from top Bay Area agencies for an immersive panel in DBH 117. In addition to networking with light snacks and refreshments, we will be discussing topics for career readiness, including:

  • Pros and cons between working at an agency, or in-house at a corporation
  • Balancing client needs with agency priorities
  • Advice for new grads on landing your first job
  • Tips for career growth in the Bay Area
  • Insight on working in B2B or B2C communications

Following the panel, there will be opportunities to ask questions and mingle with the professionals listed below. Each agency participating has a variety of internships and entry-level roles available throughout the year: time to get networking!


Mike Sanchez, Account Executive

Mike started his PR journey four years ago at FleishmanHillard. Today, he’s an AE at Edelman and specializes in Enterprise Technology, the Cannabis Industry and Startups. Connect with Mike on LinkedIn and Twitter!

Hannah Boss, Senior Account Executive

Hannah began her PR journey as a public relations intern. With three years experience, she’s now a Sr. AE at Highwire PR and specializes in Tech! Connect with Hannah on LinkedIn.

RJ Jovellanos, Senior Account Executive

RJ began his public relations journey five years ago as a PR intern for Ubisoft. Today, his career continues to focus on Esports and gaming for global accounts as a Sr. AE at Ogilvy. Connect with RJ on LinkedIn and Twitter!

Deena Betcher, Senior Director

Deena began her PR journey as a Snow Reporter for Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. Today, Deena specializes in consumer PR, specifically in outdoor and health/wellness brands. Connect with Deena on LinkedIn!

Ashley Nakano, Director

Ten years ago, Ashely accepted her first job out of college as a multimedia journalist at North State Public Radio. Today, she is the Director of Sterling Communications and specializes in public relations, emerging technology and venture capital. Connect with Ashley on LinkedIn and Twitter!

Melissa Lewelling, Account Manager

After graduating from SJSU, Melissa began working at the Hoffman Agency as an Account Coordinator. Five years later, Melissa is an Account Manager and specializes in telling stories for B2B organizations from downtown San José! Connect with Melissa on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Jocelyn Arellano, Account Executive

Jocelyn is a PRSSA SJSU alumna who began her internship with Zeno Group two years ago. Today, she is an AE and specializes in B2B Tech (business-to-business technology). Connect with Jocelyn on LinkedIn and Twitter!

Juliet Fox, Associate Creative Director

Juliet began her career as a Jr. Copywriter at SpotCo in NYC. Today, she is an Associate Creative Director where she specializes creative concepting for earned media and digital campaign development. Connect with Juliet on LinkedIn!

Hispanic Heritage Month: The Importance of Inclusivity

by Alannah McDermott

Diversity and inclusion are more than buzzwords and campaigns. Although we continue to bring visibility to the discussion this year, we must ask ourselves―are we including everyone in this story? 

San José State is regionally known as the powerhouse of the Silicon Valley, an ecosystem built on diversity.  Our university is dedicated to continuing the legacy of Cesar Chavez through a commitment to social justice and activism in everything we do.  We are united by our differences―exposed to different ethnicities, religions, ideologies, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds on-campus. Diversity is not just a concept at SJSU, it’s the foundation of who we are—one of the reasons we’re ranked the 4th most transformative college in America

As communicators and creatives, our storytelling is at the forefront of creating discussions and movements around diversity and inclusion, often bringing attention to areas lacking in equity. 

In an industry that is so focused on people, we must strive to ensure all are included in our society and our teams―both in and out of the office. 

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, PRSSA SJSU board members offered insight into why diversity is uniquely important to them. 

“Different cultures and walks of life produce different takes on any given situation,” Joanna Acevedo, PRSSA’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, said. “Therefore, it’s imperative to have diversity within an organization to grapple with the complex intersections existing in society.”

There are real issues affecting real people. To solve them, we have to tackle problems with our strongest defense: information. We must be problem solvers, examining the issue at hand at every possible angle. With this, we can offer different vantage points across cultures, ages, ethnicities and gender identities.  Our critical thinking is done best when we work together, not when we are looking at only one small section of the story.

“I once attended a workshop that specifically focused on Latinx community and mental health,Acevedo said, The accumulation of different experiences being Latinx struggling with mental illness allowed there to be a carefully thought out approach on how to best serve that group!” This is a practical example of a time where diversity of voice and thought helped solve the issue at hand, creatively identifying the problem.

Other ways we can stand in solidarity with diverse populations is by hiring and promoting more people of color, creating documents with accessibility features for the visually impaired and recognizing multiple gender identities and sexual orientations in surveys. 

While we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we need to bring attention to the beauty of this culture throughout the year. We can make the Latinx community feel valued and heard by actively partnering with them in their struggles and not dismissing real―and often unseen―issues. 

Chapter Treasurer Gabi Avella does this by leveraging public relations skills gained through our organization to advocate for Latinx issues. As part of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley’s Ella Class of 2019, she’s facilitated classes and launched projects to encourage and increase Latina representation in government. 

“Sometimes we don’t realize the barriers of getting into a group,” Avella said. “Finding the barriers and breaking them down is a good way to increase diversity in a group.”

Yasmin Abdi, Vice President of Professional Development, recalls an experience where diversity was paramount in her growth at SJSU. 

“In university housing my freshman year, I was paired with roommates who differed from me completely,” she said. “But, it made us appreciate one another more.” 

In 2015, McKinsey&Company’s Why Diversity Matters study illustrated that companies with gender and ethnic diversity were more likely to financially outperform those with a lack of diversity. This study shows that diverse executive boards are a smart investment, generating better returns and more money for organizations.

We can reap the social, cultural and economic benefits of diversity and inclusion when we consistently invest in communities that are often overlooked.

It’s more than meeting quotas―it’s about starting at the most basic level and beginning with the people we interact with daily. This includes the people in our classes, at our workplaces, at home―anywhere! 

At SJSU, PRSSA is dedicated to investing in our diverse community, offering professional opportunities, including agency tours, networking sessions, conferences, panels, socials and workshops. The panels we host throughout the semester include young, diverse professionals in a variety of industries who are ready to connect with members. Our organization works closely with our parent chapter PRSA Silicon Valley to bring multicultural communications executives from companies like Alaska Airlines, Juniper Networks, Zeno Group and IBM to the table with students directly. 

We are excited to continue growing our diverse community of students this semester. Whether you’re a future member ready to dive into professional development activities we have planned, or a fellow Spartan wanting to foster connections, we can’t wait to meet and get to know you!

Join us in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, and let us know some practical ways you’re advancing diversity and inclusion in your communities. We want to partner with you. 🙂 

What PRSSA Means to Me

By Alannah McDermott

One of the greatest decisions I’ve made for my academic and professional journey is joining PRSSA.  The field of public relations is constantly adapting, changing and growing. To go about a career in PR without a group of students and professionals to support you would be like a wearing a blindfold during a race.  My mind has opened up to so many experiences and perspectives in the field of PR that wouldn’t have been available to me without joining PRSSA.

So, I want to share a bit about what PRSSA means to me by highlighting three pillars of success that PRSSA has empowered me with:

1. Knowledge

It’s one thing to learn about something in the classroom, or through a textbook.  It’s another thing entirely to take a step further through hands on workshops, leadership opportunities and volunteerism.  Excellence isn’t just built in the work we do in our PR classes. PRSSA has allowed me to practice what I learn in case studies so that I’m better prepared when I graduate.  For example, I’ve read tons on the do’s and don’ts of media relations in public relations classes. But, it wasn’t until we had a pitching workshop earlier this semester that I was able to see my weaknesses and strengths. Being a member has made me a better skilled PR student—hands down!

2. Connection

Connecting with others is at the core of this organization. Within the first few months of joining PRSSA, I had already made over 50 connections with professionals in the fields of business, PR, events, finance, marketing and much more.  And this is still growing! Through agency tours, a regional conference and panels, I was able to gain perspectives from communicators fresh in the industry and those who have been pros for years. In PRSSA, we build relationships.  Every member is not only passionate about the ins and outs of PR, but we also take the time to support and empower each other.

3. Diversity

PRSSA SJSU is made up of people from different cultures, ethnicities, genders, personalities and ideologies.  For me, this is absolutely necessary in any organization I find myself to be a part of and my chapter set the bar pretty high!  PRSSA shows its dedication for diversity by welcoming anyone and everyone with open arms and taking the time to support and connect with them.  Naturally, I’m not a super outgoing person. The members have helped me break out of my shell and it’s been a passion of mine since to do the same for new members.  PRSSA continued to uplift its value on diversity by creating an opening role of Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the club, which also creates more opportunities for members.  

Opportunity Awaits

Knowledge, connection and diversity are three of the foundational characteristics of PRSSA and its members.  That’s why our crowdfunding campaign for the International Conference is paramount to the success of all our members. Support received from this fundraising initiative will support our talented and budding professionals with financial assistance. We want them to take advantage of this opportunity to make meaningful connections on and off-campus. Our mission is to have PRSSA thrive in our community.I truly believe everyone is only one connection away from changing the trajectory of their lives!

Please consider donating to the PRSSA International Conference fund and share the link with your network to help our campaign reach a higher visibility.

Spring 2019 PR & Marcom Fair

Building connections is the one of the keys to success in the Public Relations and communications industry.

On Feburary 28, San José State students attended the PR & MarCom Fair hosted by PRSSA. PR and communications agencies showcased their internships and post-grad jobs available throughout the Bay Area.

“The fair was a great opportunity for relationship building and getting to know what is out there,” said SJSU PR student, Gabi Avella. “It was amazing to hear about the work I could be doing some day.”

The companies in attendance were Edelman, Highwire PR, The Hoffman Agency, Lumina, Sterling Communications, Inkhouse, Finn Partners, Praytell and Connext.

SJSU students were able to speak one on one with PR professionals that specialize in technology and consumer communications in various parts of the Bay Area.

“We search for those with big ideas, strong opinions and the energy to bring them to life. Critical thinking, creative ideation and tenacious execution are critical skills needed for teamwork and content,” said Andrew Robinson, Highwire PR.  

Agencies are looking for PR and MarCom students that are ready to gain real life experience in the competitive field.

One of the attendees, Connext, is a consulting company that matches students with a career coach to help guide them into any sector of PR.

René Siegel, CEO and Founder of Connext, is a SJSU alum who also became a PR professor ready to mentor students into the job field.

“Connext is the trampoline right below that, ready to not only catch you but to propel you up onto the next opportunity,” said Jasmine Garcia, Marketing Communications Specialist at Connext.

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, SJSU students have a special advantage with the abundance of tech companies looking for interns in the PR and MarCom realm.

“Internships allow you to connect classroom concepts to real-world situations,” said SJSU PR professor, Matt Cabot. “Take as many as you can during college. They’ll make you stand out among the rest of your peers who are searching for work in this competitive field.”

PRSSA is recommended to join for gaining better connections with professionals and attend seasonal fairs like this one.

“I found the event extremely beneficial. It had an amazing and positive vibe making it feel like a professional lounge,” said SJSU PR student, Greg Buckley. “I enjoyed all the agencies, but the Hoffman Agency stood out to me.”

The closest agency to SJSU is The Hoffman Agency, where multiple PRSSA members have experienced their first PR internship.

“The Hoffman Agency provides a level of support and encouragement perfect for, and that frankly can’t be matched by larger companies. This internship program provides professionals with all the tools needed to kick off their career in PR, while also forming lasting professional relationships,” said Pal Hollywood, Account Executive.

PRSSA SJSU has helped bridge the gap between students and professionals to build connections that better prepare students for their PR and MarCom career path.

We look forward to continuing our partnerships with local Bay Area professionals as their knowledge and experience is invaluable to us.

Media Predicts: Damage Control, Monopolies and the Future of Silicon Valley

One of the most important aspects of working in public relations is staying up-to-date with the latest news and information. At PRSA Silicon Valley’s Media Predicts event, PRSSA SJSU took a sneak peak behind the curtain of 2019 technology headlines.

The Media Predicts panel consisted of editors and technology journalists from top publications including:



The panelists offered insight on the competitive nature of Silicon Valley and made predictions for breaking tech-news stories and social issues in 2019 — specifically, the struggle for humanity in the midst of controversy. “This pipe dream we had of making the world a better place is not what the C-Suite want,” said Tech Editor of ELLE, Jenna Blaha.

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The recent controversies with CEOs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have put Silicon Valley in the crosshairs of Washington D.C.. “There’s going to be a hard look to see if these companies have become the railroads of the 21st century,” said AP Business/ Tech writer, Michael Liedtke. However, Bloomberg’s Nico Grant expressed a lack of confidence in Congress’ ability to reign in these monopolies.

“When Zuckerberg was on Capitol Hillthey had no idea how Facebook worked, or how they turn a profit or how they run their business,” said Grant.  Grant laughed recalling how Zuckerberg answered “Senator, we run ads” when asked about his business. The structure of these companies and their monopoly over different technology leaves the government with the difficult question, is it time to split these companies up? “I think the burden of proof is on the government,so none will be broken up,” said Grant.

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With Jeff Bezos taking over the the top spot for richest man on the planet, many of the panelist believe that Amazon’s actions could have the biggest impact in 2019. “Amazon is taking over homes and they’re not stopping, said D’OnforHe said that Amazon wants it all, acting likehey’re Pac-Man The recent success of artificial assistants like Alexa or Google Home shows that while people value privacy, millions are willing to give it up in exchange for  convenience and accessibility.

“Privacy is dead,” said CNN Technology reporter, Ahiza Garcia. A report from TechCrunch found that 36 million Americans own a smart speaker. “We’ve put so much info out there and it’s going to be hard to pull that back,” Garcia said. A majority of those speakers are Amazon’s Alexa, who takes residence in 11 percent of American homes.

Garcia also reminded the audience that while some companies avoid the spotlight, Nike’s research showed customers want companies to take a stand on social issues — impacting their bottom line. For example, Nike’s, “Just Do It” campaign with ex-NFL player Colin Kaepernick has trended on social media and received praise from stockholders.


While Garcia cannot officially advise on financial matters, she suggests to be careful with any investment or stock. “If you’re young, you have more room for risk. If you’re old, be more conservative,” Garcia said.

For students entering the workforce, these topics and social issues need to be brought to the forefront of our conversations as they will directly impact our lives after graduation. In Silicon Valley, tech news is no longer limited to product exclusives or reviews of new gadgets. With technology shaping the world around us, it is our responsibility as public relations and mass communications students to stay informed and advocate for equity, accessibility, and transparency.