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Diversity and Inclusion is Here to Stay

By Elsabete Kebede

When I submitted my application for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Foundation Travel Grant sometime in June, I knew it was a long-shot. The grant allowed 10 multicultural students nationwide an all-expenses paid trip to Austin, Texas for the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Conference. I applied anyway. In August, as I waited in line for my lunch at Whole Foods, I got an email that notified me I was a recipient.

As it was my first PRSSA National Conference, I was so excited to attend and a larger part of my excitement was due to the timely themes and sessions taking place. One of the sessions that I attended was “Celebrating Black Public Relations Industry”, where I was able to learn about the untold stories of PR practitioners that paved the way for many leaders now. In any industry, there is power and value in seeing successful people that look like you. When I see people of color, especially women of color in leadership positions, it tells me that it is possible for me to reach that level as well.  

This year the PRSA Foundation published Diverse Voices, a book that shares the unique and inspiring stories of 40 multicultural PR professionals.  The Foundation generously gave me a copy and I was delighted to see that Kim Hunter was one of the featured professionals. As a LAGRANT scholarship recipient, I am one of the many students Kim has helped with academic and professional development. As graduation approaches and I prepare to beginmy career, I plan on working for a progressive, diverse, and socially aware company. The work that the PRSA and LAGRANT Foundation do, along with so many others, is what directs me to the people I would like to work with and for. Please note that I am not the only one. In a 2016 study done by the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and Weber Shandwick, 47% of millennials consider diversity and inclusion as “important criteria” in their job search. Yet, the public relations industry has a diversity gap; in 2016, the U.S. Census stated that 81.5% of professionals identified as white.

Though I cannot imagine the number of people of color in high-level positions fares well, they do exist.  I was fortunate enough to meet some of those individuals at the PRSSA conference, some of which who even advocated for the creation of the travel grant. It’s an incredible and inspiring to be around industry leaders who are unafraid to challenge the status quo.

I’m grateful that there are organizations like Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP), The LAGRANT Foundation, PRSA Foundation and others that are active in helping the next generation of diverse communications practitioners build their career.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Kim, that I think all industry leaders should keep in mind: “Our industry will be better off when leaders embrace diversity and inclusion as a fundamental business imperative throughout the enterprise. Be vulnerable be open. Embrace the present. Embrace the future.”

Diversity and inclusion should not be something nice to have, but imperative to each organization. Diverse communicators are the future of the PR industry and my peers and I are eternally grateful for the existing support system. Due to the tireless work of you all, we will reach new heights, break down more barriers, and lead a public relations industry that truly is diverse and inclusive.

Code for Communications

by Brandy Suarez-Aguilar

We all know that the idea of working in beauty, fashion or entertainment industries can be glamorous and exciting. As public relations practitioners, it is easy to get become fixated on celebrities and big brands. However, it is a great time for students to be entering the workforce as more technology companies expand their public relations and communications teams.

At this year’s PRSSA National Conference,  Brandi Boatner, Brand Communications Manager and “Beyonce of the Business World,” stressed that it is time for girls to “Run the World” and code for communications.

For many mass communications students that attended the conference, the idea of taking courses in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) may seem intimidating. With a growing number of women entering the intersection of communications and technology, Boatner advocated for women to add coding to their long list of skills on their resume.

When trying something new, it is important to set yourself up for success. Many universities offer communications classes emphasizing a role with technology. Boatner also suggested students follow along with podcasts, utilize online tutorials and blogs as resources to practice your new skills outside of the classroom.

Technology is constantly evolving only making joining professional societies, finding mentors and expanding your network as crucial as can be to success in the world of tech-PR.

Attending events including the annual Women in Technology Summit offers business opportunities, ideas for innovative solutions and leadership initiatives in an inclusive environment designed to educate and support women.

If you do decide to enter the field of technology communications, it is unlikely that coding will be listed as a prerequisite during the application process. However, companies are looking for thought leadership and problem solvers.

Experience in STEM, specifically coding, is a great way to set yourself apart and bring solutions to the table.

Moving on from PRSSA to PRSA

By Mahdis Bidokhti

I joined my local PRSSA chapter at San José State University three years ago. Now, as a senior, I had the opportunity to attend my second and final PRSSA National Conference in Austin, TX.

Throughout the conference I was able to network with professionals, enhance my knowledge of public relations, meet students from all around the country interested in the same career and try some really great food options in the city. I even had the chance to catch up with my old friend, Immediate Past PRSSA National President, Andrew Cook.

My experience at the national conference made me reflect upon my gratitude for The PRSSA National Society, PRSSA SJSU and PRSA Silicon Valley, my local chapter. These organizations allowed me to learn about the industry outside of my public relations classes, inspiring me to plan on how I can continue to be involved in the future.

PRSA Silicon Valley does an amazing job of supporting our PRSSA students at SJSU, always reaching out to include us in their events. I’ve been lucky enough to experience the generosity of alumni and Bay Area professionals, a major reason why I was able to attend my second PRSSA National Conference.

Graduating seniors are in a great position to give back to the organization and help students looking for professional development opportunities in the mass communications industry. When PRSSA students graduate from their university, they can join a local PRSA chapter.

PRSA Silicon Valley offers mentorship and guidance, while fostering inclusive and meaningful friendships. Though joining PRSA is the next step for me, my goal is to continue my relationship with PRSSA by sharing my network and resources with students looking to enter the public relations industry. I hope to make a difference and add to their experience at San José State University. I want to provide support, insight and feedback in order to make their transition from PRSSA to PRSA as easy as possible, like current members have done for me.

Buzzword Alert: Influencer Marketing

by Emily Edwards Van Muijen

As we grow more accustomed to advertisements inundating our daily lives, companies have to be more creative about broadcasting their products to their publics.

Sybil Grieb and Andrew Schwalb of Edelman gave students a “behind the scenes” look at influencer relations, strategies and brand awareness during the Public Relations Student Society of America Regional Conference in Fullerton, California (NextGenPR).

An influencer is a person that has a significant following on a platform that reaches a lot of people. Influencer marketing is skyrocketing due to third-party credibility influencers possess which enables them to reach niche audiences more effectively than traditional advertisements.

According to Grieb, influencers are the “gateway to trust” and can help a brand build a relationship with its intended audience.

Award-winning Snapchat artist, Shaun McBride (Shonduras), partnered with Edelman client, Xfinity Mobile, to create a mural comprised of drawings sent to McBride via Snapchat from his following of more than 600,000 people. McBride used his following to create a“Snapsterpiece”  which debuted at a new Xfinity store in Philadelphia, increasing store traffic by over 400 percent and garnering more than one million video views.

“Influencer marketing is no longer an option, it’s a requirement,” stressed Grieb and Schwalb. Campaigns like the one carried out by Edelman and Xfinity Mobile are being adopted by companies across the globe.

Through collected social media data and analytics, it is safe to infer that if media is not easily consumable and cannot bypass complex algorithms, the intended audience will not listen. Society has learned to ignore the ads so creativity in reaching publics is necessary.

Schwalb acknowledged that it can be difficult to convince companies with more traditional views of advertising to use influencers. For instance, explaining the reach of a Youtuber or an Instagram model to a conservative client may be challenging because they aren’t celebrities in the traditional sense of the word.

Schwalb offered a piece of advice in convincing a business to use influencer marketing, “Show them that it works.” Try starting with a small campaign that utilizes a micro-influencer with a smaller, niche audience. After the event put together real metrics detailing the impact of the campaign. Clients love to see results.

Grieb and Schwalb helped students like myself understand the changing landscape of public relations and marketing by explaining the different ways to incorporate influence marketing into a campaign.

From Ice Rinks to Hardwood Floors: PR in the Sports Industry

by Julia Blanchet

If you are a football fan, fall is your favorite time of the year. September finally arrives and as the dust kicks up while walking from your tailgate to the stadium, you wonder to yourself if your team will win the game. You may even be confident in knowing your team will win. It is a magical feeling but the magic did not come together on its own. Little to no effort is required to be a football fan. However, the time and effort put into every National Football League (NFL) game in order to ensure efficiency is tremendous.

One of the many professionals working to uphold the NFL’s legacy is Communications Manager Andrew Howard. In this thriving industry, it takes a professional who has a passion for what they do combined with the skill and knowledge to get the job done. On April 7, at the Next Generation PR Regional Conference (NextGenPR) at California State Fullerton, students from the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) had the opportunity to hear from Howard directly about his journey.

As a Communications Manager at the NFL, Andrew Howard is a prime example of a true professional in the sports industry. His persistence, confidence and skills are inspirational for any young PR professional. Howard says he, “works in an environment in which everyone shares the same love for sports and the same talent in communication.”

Howard shared with PRSSA students that ironically, he did not major in public relations but rather earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History at University of California, Los Angeles. Although he did not have a lot of PR experience in college, the relationships he built have landed him where he is today. There is no doubt that Howard has managed to combine work and play. His work history ranges from interning for the National Hockey League with the Los Angeles Kings, to working as NBA public relations staff for the Golden State Warriors.

At the NextGen PR Conference, Howard emphasized the importance of internships and building strong connections. Howard believes that working in the sports industry is less about knowing every statistic and more about understanding the dynamics of the game and the storylines. Today, Howard juggles finding time for coordinating interviews, writing press releases, managing media schedules, promoting daily content and assisting in major NFL productions such as the Super Bowl. He spoke confidently about handling crises and explained how it is truly a “growing experience,” and you learn as you work. 

Howard enjoys working in an environment where everyone shares the same love for sports and the same talent in communication.  He is an experienced professional in the sports industry. Howard’s persistence, confidence and work ethic are skills every young professional should strive for. He continues to look forward in his career and hopes to eventually dedicate his time to one team in the NFL.

Howard ended his time at NextGenPR by sharing some misconceptions that come with working in the sports industry. One piece of advice? Next time you meet a professional working in the sports industry, do not ask them if they have free tickets to the game! While Howard likes to say he is a fan of all NFL teams, he could not hide his Philly pride and shared that he is a “true Eagles fan.”

Oh Snap! Crisis Comms

by Tina Paredes

As a public relations professional, crises can either be your worst nightmare or a small bump in the road. Either way, crises are inevitable. The only way to alleviate the hassle is to always be prepared and act accordingly for the situation at hand.

Holly Baird, of Sitrick and Company, is a seasoned professional when it comes to dealing with crises and reputation management. Whenever there’s an issue at 3 a.m., she’s there to mitigate the issue to the best of her ability. With over 13 years of experience, Baird has worked on over 200 cases dealing with entertainment, sports, litigation support, media training and marketing/social media development. Before working at Sitrick and Company, she worked at Ogilvy & Mather and CBS Enterprises.

While speaking at the Next Generation Public Relations Conference (NextGenPR) at her alma mater, Cal State Fullerton, Baird was ecstatic to share her advice and experiences with young PR students from the west coast. “It’s amazing being here again and talking to you guys. I’m so happy to be here,” said Baird.

Baird has worked with a variety of high profile clients such as Chris Brown and Harvey Weinstein. She explained that it’s important to choose a client that you can trust, and who won’t turn their back on you when you’re not paying attention. She continues with, “Never put yourself in a situation that can damage your reputation, your career or your life.”

Working in crisis communications means that you’re on call 24/7. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas Eve or if your best friend is getting married, duty calls at any time. “I had to miss friend’s weddings or the birth of their children but they understand,” said Baird. “When you work in crises communications, you need to have people in your life who understand that work goes first. This is especially important for significant others. If they don’t understand how important your job is to you…dump them. They’re not worth your time.”

Since working in crisis communications is such a fast-paced and often unpredictable job, it has the potential to lead to a stressful lifestyle. Because of this, Baird emphasizes the importance of self-care and alone time when she needs to cool down from work-induced stress.

Baird concluded her time by offering students a last piece of advice, “Remember to always take care of yourself when you can. It’s not possible to perform your best work if you’re not sleeping or eating enough. Always know your limits and know when it’s time to take a break.”  

Creative Strategizing in Tech PR, As Told by the Pros

by Shana Azani

Krista Sparks Kiner and Eddie Garcia provided words of Tech PR wisdom at the “PR on the Grid” panel during the PRSSA Cal State Fullerton Regional Conference (NextGenPR).

After the young and hungry students filed into a nondescript auditorium with fluorescent lighting in the Student Union, Krista Sparks Kiner and Eddie Garcia were introduced to the crowd. Throughout the hour they both gave personal accounts of what working at an agency, more specifically on tech accounts, is really like.

Kiner, an Account Director at Finn Partners, has multiple tech accounts and explained that every client has very different needs. To accommodate specific needs, Finn Partners tailor a team that best suits each need addressed by the client.

Creative strategies are planned and implemented in advance to maximize the client’s results. “The pace of tech PR changes so fast, what happens within different campaign strategies has to change constantly,” said Kriner.

In tech PR finding the right methods of communication and the right words to say are also keys to the success of any campaign strategy. Tech specifications and jargon can be difficult for regular consumers to understand, but as the key communicator, you must be up to the task. The panel posed the question, “How do you explain something to someone that doesn’t exist?”

As Senior Media Manager for Nintendo of America at Golin, Garcia shared that even though he dedicates his time to one account he has to take many things into consideration when developing a new campaign. As a professional communicator, you must not only be a creative translator, but also a detective who finds the perfect media match and a great writer.

It takes a lot of practice to wear all hats simultaneously, but Garcia recommends the best way to do so is through internship experience and to “Get your foot in the door.” He continued with, “Don’t take no for an answer. You are going to get a lot of no’s before you get a yes.” Garcia added that every great approach is backed by research, so have it ready.

Both Kiner and Garcia covered the importance of having strong connections with key journalists and providing exclusive stories and previews. They said these relationships are helpful when a client decides to abruptly pivot a product in an unforeseen direction or has a scoop that needs to be released quietly. Sending members of the media new tech or inviting them to an exclusive launch event where they are the first to experience a client’s product have also been success pitch strategies for Kiner and Garcia.

You never fully know how a client’s product will be received, but by taking the right steps and tailoring the elements of a campaign to suit your client’s needs based on strong research will set you up for success.

4 Tips to Making it In Media Relations

by Elsabete Kebede

Media relations is a key behind-the-scenes part of the public relations industry. Yes, getting media coverage is a win, but there is a lot of effort behind it. If you are curious about media relations and want some insight on how to do well, below are four tips by industry professionals shared at NextGenPR.

1. Befriend the media

Don’t only pitch press when you need something from them. Reach out when you have something to give them. You’re genuinely trying to build a relationship. It’s about cultivating honesty and trust.

Robyn Harney, Publicist at Sony Pictures

Public relations professionals work hand-in-hand with journalists. So, instead of only reaching out to them when you need something, be kind and offer something in turn. Take them out to lunch to talk about things other than your work. Offer an extra ticket to an event you know they would enjoy. Shoot them a happy birthday message. It is all about cultivating a trusting and genuine long-lasting relationship, so be a good friend. That can take you far.

2. See the bigger picture

It’s being prepared and having your plans in place, but then also being able to turn on a dime and change the plan

Yvonne Graham, Publicity Director at Disney-ABC

In the world of PR, having a plan is critical but also know that nothing is definite. Crises happen: cars break down and your schedule is thrown into chaos, someone says something they shouldn’t have, etc. It’s important to have Plan A but make sure to have a contingency plan. Think big and be capable of taking different avenues to meet the end goal.

3. Order some inner strength (in bulk)

I remember my first internship the very first pitch call, I got yelled at by the New York Times. And it’s just brushing that off. It’s hard being the recipient of someone’s bad day, but there are other forces at play. It’s not about you.

Jessica Nueman, Media Manager and Senior Account Executive at Westbound Communications

People probably will yell at you. You also will get rejected multiple times, but don’t take it personally. Brush it off, get even more creative with your pitches and keep moving forward.

4. Read.

“I read every single morning. I read the LA Times, I have Google alerts for all of my venues. I get through all the headlines and get the gist. And who wrote it is important. You need be up on whatever it is.

Vanessa Kromer, Vice President of Communications at Nederlander Concerts

PR is not just about writing well; it’s about reading well too. Stay up to date on the news revolving around your specific company and what is happening in the world. Be cognizant of and sensitive to unexpected events and tragedies. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the happenings in Washington. By educating yourself on what is going on in society, you become a better communicator, ultimately making you more valuable.