Julie CrabillFounder and CEO, Inner Circle Labs
Over the course of her 10-year PR career, Julie Crabill, PRWeek's 2002 Student of the Year, has stressed passion, which she feels is the key to success. In fact, passion played a key role when she left her post as a VP in the consumer lifestyle practice at Shift Communications last fall to start her own firm Inner Circle Labs in San Francisco, which launched this January. Crabill is committed to only accept business she feels passionate about.
“When PR people love what they do, they do a really good job,” Crabill says. “That's only about 20% of the time, in my experience. I wanted to build a company based on the premise that if we only took on projects we love, we'd be happier and grow more. It's smaller growth, but smarter growth.”
Her current role has allowed her to act on other passions, too. Along with Mashable events maven Karen Hartline, she coordinates Time4Wine, a semi-annual event that brings the most influential people in social media to different wine regions.
Crabill says the PRWeek Award process gave her valuable hands-on experience. She committed to the exercise, which asked the students to develop a PR campaign that would position the Bahamas as an ideal film and photo production location, as if she were creating a plan for a real client. Crabill admits to being a bit intimidated at first to present to judges who were far more experienced than her, but she now realizes how invaluable it was. Before she won, Crabill questioned if she was right for the industry.
“The award helped me know I was pretty good at PR,” she explains. “It has helped me manage people. Those who don't question if they're right for the business probably aren't right for it.”
Founder & CEO, Inner Circle Labs
Various roles at Shift Communications, most recently VP of the consumer lifestyle practice
Various roles at Edelman
AE, Weber Shandwick
San Jose State University
During the first four years of his career, first at Weber Shandwick and then Edelman, Daren Kwok discovered his passion for healthcare. In 2007, he took a “leap of faith” and became director of operations at DermoGenesis, a small Los Angeles-based skincare company. Earlier this year, the 2003 PRWeek Student of the Year winner was named CEO of the company.
“In terms of my 10-year plan, it's sooner than I expected,” Kwok admits. “It's a great opportunity. I gained my chops coming up with campaigns and instituting things we never had before, including e-newsletters, direct mail, and PR.”
Calling his PRWeek Award “an incredible personal achievement,” the University of Southern California graduate says, “The award was a huge confidence booster. It allowed me to take more risks and seek more opportunity. It helped me get jobs and tap so many networks.”
Most of Kwok's professors at USC were practicing professionals who, he says, were “at the forefront of PR, working on things that were in the news.” They taught from experience and focused on strategy based on evidence and analysis. Everything Kwok learned while in college has impacted his career.
After graduation, he worked in public affairs at Weber before joining the healthcare practice at Edelman, where he worked for clients ranging from small biotech companies to Johnson & Johnson. As he embarked on his career, Kwok was most surprised by PR's pervasive influence.
“No one really knows what PR is when you start,” he says. “Every day – whether people realize it or not – they're being influenced by PR.”
CEO, DermoGenesis, Beverly Hills, CA
Director of Operations, DermoGenesis. Had oversight of PR and marketing
Senior Account Executive, Edelman – Health and Starbucks Teams
Account Executive, Edelman
AAE, Weber Shandwick – Public Affairs Group
President and CEO, Glam-Allure Public Relations
Her membership in the PRSSA is what led Keyana Williams to enter the PRWeek Awards competition. In retrospect, she realizes how many doors the award opened for her.
“I always refer to the award as the highlight of my educational career,” says Williams, PRWeek's 2004 Student of the Year. “It gave me a boost of confidence and confirmed I had chosen the right career. It's like an industry stamp of approval that allowed me to develop many relationships I've maintained.”
While at Howard University, Williams did some project work under the name Forte Public Relations. After interning with Weber Shandwick in Atlanta and Burson-Marsteller in New York, she returned home to Cleveland and held various PR positions. Two years ago, she committed to running Forte full-time. A former employer, the Cleveland Academy of Scholarship, Technology and Leadership Enterprise (CASTLE), was signed as her first client.
Williams says she knew there would be risks involved in running her own business, but confidence in her skills helped her overcome obstacles. Forte PR was shuttered in June 2010 after client contracts expired, but Williams cofounded a new beauty-focused agency in Cleveland called Glam-Allure Public Relations with her cousin, who has a finance and operations background. Williams provides overall leadership, strategic planning, and PR execution. She intends to expand into the fitness, health, and entertainment sectors.
As a pro, Williams was most surprised to learn how few people outside the industry understand PR.
“Not many people know what PR is, even though the effects of it are part of their everyday life,” she explains. “The challenge is to articulate its value.”
President/CEO, Glam-Allure PR
Founder, consultant, Forte Public Relations
Marketing coordinator, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Parma, OH
Assistant to principal/Marketing & PR Liaison, CASTLE
Account coordinator, NAS Recruitment Communications
Account supervisor, FoodMinds
While in college, Joshua Morton majored in speech communication because it was the closest discipline to PR at his school, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He worked independently to learn PR, taking three internships, consulting with ad professors, and testing ideas on friends. He never expected to win a PRWeek Award because he wasn't a PR major.
“I had to give it a shot,” says PRWeek's 2005 Student of the Year winner. “If nothing else, it would be a good exercise in putting together a campaign strategy. ”
Before the ceremony, Morton had wanted to practice consumer PR. However, he was seated at a table with corporate and financial services team members at Weber Shandwick, which sponsored the Student of the Year category that year. After he won, the firm offered him an internship in corporate affairs.
“The award put me on the right career path,” Morton notes. “Had I been at the consumer practice table, who knows what would have happened?”
As an account supervisor at Weber, Morton was able to work with a number of different clients. That exposure helped him discover his passion for working in the food industry, which led to his most recent move.
Last September, Morton joined FoodMinds, a food and nutrition specialist agency based in Oakbrook Terrace, IL. His responsibilities include day-to-day project management for the National Dairy Council's nutrition guidance program. He also leads a team that tracks and analyzes food policy issues.
As his career advanced, Morton was pleased to learn he's in a smaller world than expected. “At some point, the same people work with each other,” he adds. “It makes for a lot of camaraderie.”
Account supervisor, FoodMinds
2005 to 2009
Account supervisor, Weber Shandwick
Public affairs volunteer, American Red Cross of Greater Chicago
Cofounder and president, Green Street Records
Media relations intern, Ravinia Festival
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Media relations supervisor, Edelman
Honorable Mention 2006
A defining moment is how Jake Basden describes his experience with the Student of the Year process. “PRWeek helped me realize what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life,” says this two-time PRWeek Award recipient, having followed his 2006 Student of the Year Honorable Mention by capturing the top honor in the Young PR Professional of the Year category in 2008.
“The student competition was an awesome learning experience,” he adds. “I knew that if I could work that hard and love every minute of it, I had found what I wanted to do.”
Basden interned for Ogilvy Public Relations twice. Following his graduation from the University of Oklahoma, Ogilvy hired him as a media specialist. He joined Edelman in 2008 as media relations supervisor, developing and executing media strategy for multiple account teams. Basden feels his student award paved the way for opportunities he might not have had otherwise – especially coming from The Sooner State.
“My education was important for the very basics,” he notes. “If you can't write or speak well, you simply can't get to the next step. But real-life experience is what really made it happen for me.”
Basden currently spends about half his time working on Unilever's AXE brand, and he remains amazed at “what a small world it really is” – a surprising lesson he's re-learned often about the PR industry since he became a professional.
“Barby Siegel, my Ogilvy mentor, is now CEO of Zeno Group,” he says. “Jane Mazur is head of media relations for Bausch & Lomb, which is an Edelman client. You never know when someone is going to be your colleague or your client.”
Media relations supervisor, Edelman
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. Began as an intern. Eight months after starting at the firm, he was named a media specialist
University of Oklahoma
Account executive, Capstrat
Honorable Mention 2008
When she landed her first job at Raleigh, NC-based Capstrat, Heather Forster was emboldened by her Honorable Mention in PRWeek's 2008 Student of the Year category.
“It also made the first day a lot less scary,” says Forster, who is currently an account executive managing creative projects and media relations for four healthcare and energy clients. “The award process also gave me a chance to test-drive the skills I learned in school. In addition, it was personally rewarding because it was something I worked so hard on and it reaffirmed my career choice. I felt a little braver going into the industry.”
Forster studied PR in the school of journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and she says her education was “very aligned” with her job at Capstrat.
“Sixty percent of what I do everyday at work is something I had done already in school,” she explains. “My school also put a strong emphasis on networking and getting real-world experience with internships. I had six of them. That put me head and shoulders above other job candidates.”
Of course, there are certain lessons you can pick up only in the field. For example, Forster says the business side of PR – including project and budget management –was the major thing she did not learn in school.
“It wasn't surprising, but it's something that wasn't much talked about in class,” she says. “In school you learn about PR campaigns, and they all sound so great – they were the success stories. But working in PR gives you a greater appreciation for all the execution. It's interesting to see how things come together. You don't do PR in a vacuum.”
Capstrat. Account executive. Began as project coordinator
PR intern, MMI Assoc.
Training and development department intern, Sealy
Marketing intern, Moses Cone Health
Health affairs comms intern, UNC School of Nursing
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Digital associate, Hill & Knowlton
Honorable Mention 2009
Upon joining Hill & Knowlton as a digital associate after interning there last summer, Meg Wheeler knew that her 2009 Student of the Year Honorable Mention was paying quick dividends.
“The award sparked my career,” she says. “The job market was a wreck in May 2009. I never planned to come to New York, but people like US chairman MaryLee Sachs opened my eyes to the opportunities I could have in a worldwide-headquartered office. That only happened because of the competition. It was a really positive experience.”
Wheeler supports the digital team and works with consumer, tourism, and healthcare clients. H&K integrated digital across all marcomms teams in April. Wheeler says the integration was “happening naturally,” as clients increasingly want digital to mirror traditional PR efforts. She calls it a positive change that has increased collaboration and brought diverse points of view to strategic thinking.
An honors student at Oklahoma State University, Wheeler earned a journalism degree with a PR concentration. Her senior thesis explored how social media is changing the communications industry. That 18-month project helped prepare her for the world of work.
The most challenging aspect of adapting from student to practitioner was realizing that “the textbook” way of doing things isn't always realistic.
“In digital, we might want to be really engaging and super interactive, but that's not always what clients want or what company policy allows,” Wheeler explains. “You have to adapt.”
Digital associate, Hill & Knowlton
Communications intern, Fleishman-Hillard for AT&T, Dallas
Communications intern, Oklahoma Heritage Association
Campaign coordinator, Bass for Senate, District 32, Oklahoma
Oklahoma State University