The next generation

What's on the mind of incoming PR pros? Gideon Fidelzeid assembled an octet of recent and soon-to-be grads to find out.

What's on the mind of incoming PR pros? Gideon Fidelzeid assembled an octet of recent and soon-to-be grads to find out.

Participants

Amy Bishop
Indiana University
Class of 2012
Member of the PRSSA National Committee: editor-in-chief of Forum, the PRSSA's national newspaper

 

Jerry Bruno
University of Florida
Class of 2012
One of 18 students selected to intern in the Florida Senate from the University of Florida

 

Sally Chia
Penn State University
Class of 2012
Currently part of the Commercial Leadership Program at GE

 

Keri Cook
Liberty University
Class of 2012
2012 PRWeek Student of the Year; current intern in the consumer practice at Hill+Knowlton Strategies

 

Blessing Amoege Emeghara
University of Texas-Austin
Class of 2013
President/founder of Real Role Models, which works with at-risk youth in Austin, TX

 

Sarah Kajani 
New York University
Class of 2013 
Current and past internships include the Digital and Corporate Strategy practice at Fleishman-Hillard

 

Thomas Millas
Syracuse University, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, 
Class of 2012
Director of Hill Communications, the student-run PR firm at Newhouse (2011-2012)

 

John Trybus
Georgetown University
Class of 2012
Winner, Arthur W. Page Society's 2012 Corporate Communications Case Study Competition

 

Entry points
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Why do you want to enter the PR profession?

Amy Bishop (Indiana University): PR allows me to become an advocate for organizations I am passionate about. With PR, I can raise awareness for causes and missions that change the lives of others.

Sally Chia (Penn State University): My expatriate upbringing developed my ability to communicate with people from different cultures and backgrounds.
At 16, I figured out that PR would be a great career choice for me because I think I have a great foundation for it.

Keri Cook (Liberty University): I'm fascinated by the role communications plays in achieving business goals. As PR continues to become more integrated with the disciplines of marketing and sales, it definitely has a seat at the business table.

John Trybus (Georgetown University): The sky is the limit in PR in terms of diverse and exciting experiences that are possible early in one's career. I am also proud to be part of a profession that has the power to make the world a better place.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What makes PR such an important profession?

Jerry Bruno (University of Florida): It is critical for any organization to be profitable, but it's even more important that audiences or the general public trust and believe in those organizations. PR allows companies to build and sustain relationships with these various audiences.

Chia (Penn State): Communications is a gateway for a company to reach out to its target market. Without PR, a company will seem like an entity that doesn't care for its public.

Cook (Liberty): PR's value is growing with its ability to be measured and tied directly to a company's bottom line. Professionals have to make sure every effort can be tracked and evaluated. With greater emphasis on results, the PR profession is in a position where it can truly make a case for influencing business.

Blessing Amoege Emeghara (University of Texas-Austin): PR pros are the masterminds behind the success stories of many organizations. Not only are they able to strategically find the good in every situation, they can also take an individual or company from average to extraordinary.

Sarah Kajani (New York University): PR upholds a brand's image and maintains that connection with various touchpoints of the brand.

Thomas Millas (Syracuse University, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications): PR is becoming more important because of the mechanisms that audiences can use to keep track of organizations. The need for transparency and CSR has never been higher, so PR has a large opportunity to manage these new issues.

Trybus (Georgetown): PR has the ability to not only raise awareness, but to rally people's hearts and minds around important issues facing society.

Social media savvy
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Many senior-level executives point to recent graduates' social media savvy as perhaps their biggest strength today. What do you need to learn or what do you think you need to know to take those skills to the next level?

Bishop (Indiana): It is vital we understand that social media is just one form of communication. The most important thing for us to learn is how social media fits into an entire integrated communications strategy using traditional and new media tactics.

Chia (Penn State): Social media is still a rapidly evolving segment of PR. Just like our generation, it is still growing, learning, and improving. Most of us grasp the concept of creating conversation via social media, but the next step should be to use it as a tool to garner b-to-b or b-to-c communications.

Cook (Liberty): Millennials entering the PR profession need to be more than proficient with the latest social media tools. We also need to be able to explain their relevance to more experienced professionals, to demonstrate their function, and to show an understanding of their contribution to achieving success that's meaningful to our clients or organizations.

Millas (Syracuse): There are too many "social media experts" in the world today who don't understand that large-scale publicity doesn't always lead to action. I hope to work toward integrating social media with business objectives and general strategies, so the result is a cohesive and strategic communications plan that can lead to deliverable results.

Trybus (Georgetown): A PR degree without training in social media strategy is not complete in my opinion, but it is crucial to note that such narrow focus on digital skills is to the detriment of young practitioners.

There is still no substitute for the power of face-to-face interpersonal communications, even in this age of rapidly evolving technology.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Is there one social media channel you feel is being underused in PR programs?

Bishop (Indiana): It seems like Foursquare is still being overlooked by many retail establishments. For restaurants and stores, Foursquare provides the opportunity to connect with customers, encourage visiting, and reward loyalty.

Chia (Penn State): Facebook and Twitter are based in the US, so most companies have already created nests in these channels. However, many companies have not invested time into similar channels that operate in other countries, for example Renren.com and Weibo.com, both in China.

Without tapping into social media platforms in other countries, a company cannot truly reach its multinational audience.

Cook (Liberty): Most professionals are familiar with LinkedIn as a general networking tool, but those working in PR also need to realize this outlet's usefulness in fostering relationships with clients, opinion leaders, and members of the media.

Kajani (NYU): Though Tumblr had the highest retention rate last year, brands have yet to truly capitalize on Tumblr's visual platform.

Millas (Syracuse): We are not underutilizing any channel. On the flip side, blogging and Facebook are being overused to the point where brands are seeing extremely small engagement (less than 1% of target audiences), and that engagement is inconsistent. Twitter is certainly used enough, but the content on it is neither as effective nor as relevant as it could be.

Trybus (Georgetown): Mobile technologies are still underused in communications programs, despite some strides. Do you know anyone without a smartphone these days? Organizations that do not engage through mobile technologies run the risk of being left behind by the tech-savvy competition.

Sources of inspiration
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Who is your role model in the field of PR?

Bruno (Florida): Kim Hunter, the president and CEO of Lagrant Communications and chairman of the Lagrant Foundation. He cares about young professionals' development, always makes himself available to mentor, and he explains how to be successful in this competitive industry.

Chia (Penn State): My father, Hans, is my role model. He currently holds a top marketing post with GE and has led many marketing programs in China. If I ever needed help on my projects, he'd always direct me to some of his campaigns. By doing so, I learned that one of the most important aspects of PR is the need to keep my target audience in mind and make a campaign based on my target market.

Emeghara (Texas-Austin): Terry Hemeyer, University of Texas-Austin lecturer and executive counsel at Pierpont, is the ultimate PR guru. He has worked in every sector, including corporate, agency, nonprofit, and government. His genuine passion for PR made me fall in love with it.

Millas (Syracuse): My role model is Chris Kuechenmeister, senior PR director at Frito-Lay North America. He was one of my indirect supervisors during my internship at Frito-Lay. He taught me the importance of strategy in communications plans as opposed to just tactics, and also to keep PR efforts both engaging yet realistic, which is a combination that is often difficult to achieve.

Trybus (Georgetown): I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my boss and friend Dr. Jane Goodall, British primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist at the Jane Goodall Institute, has forever changed how I look at life and approach my work. Among the many things she taught me is that transformative communications takes place when you reach someone's heart and not just their mind.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What was the most valuable thing you learned in school about PR?

Bishop (Indiana): The four-step RPIE (research, planning, implementation, evaluation) PR planning process. Understanding the RPIE process is vital to PR success and I'm thankful to have learned it at such a young age.

Bruno (Florida): My public strategies professor Kathleen Kelly taught me, "PR is the management of relationships between an organization and its public on whom that organization depends for its success and survival."

Cook (Liberty): I've come to understand PR's relationship with advertising and marketing. As these functions become integrated and lines continue to blur, it's important to achieve a unified voice while upholding PR's unique role of fostering a mutually meaningful dialogue between an organization and those who touch it in any way.

Emeghara (Texas-Austin): PR pros should keep it simple and not overcomplicate things.

Kajani (NYU): Putting the user first.

Millas (Syracuse): PR skills are not always best utilized in a PR career. Instead, I've discovered that many of the principles I've learned can be very useful in business management, marketing, or even entrepreneurial careers, which makes me excited to enter the workforce.

Trybus (Georgetown): A hallmark of Georgetown's program is the focus on the whole person and educating professionals who are ethically minded.

Among the many things I've learned, one of the most valuable is to actually stop and think about the meaning of ethics in the profession.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What would you have liked to learn or study more about?

 

Chia (Penn State): Perhaps more about the different types of jobs PR graduates can go into. My curriculum did a great job in teaching us about agencies, but not enough about in-house corporate PR.

Cook (Liberty): I would have liked to spend more time studying measurement and evaluation. As the industry faces growing pressure to produce results, I believe PR students need in-depth training in exactly how professionals define and demonstrate success in different contexts.

Emeghara (Texas-Austin): I would have liked to learn more about the litigation side of PR and how PR fits into the profession of law.

Millas (Syracuse): PR education needs to focus more on tying PR to business strategy and organizational goals.

I know students at many schools are frustrated because they believe the discipline is only about impressions-driven publicity, when, in fact, there is so much more to apply to our industry.

Trybus (Georgetown): The more I've learned about PR in school, the more I've realized there is to learn, especially when you understand "public relations" is a large umbrella encompassing many subsets of professional communications.

 

Professional aspirations
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What characteristics make an outstanding PR pro?

Bishop (Indiana): Leadership, creativity, and close attention to detail.

Chia (Penn State): The courage to push boundaries, knowledge and experience, and, most importantly, the ability to be a team player and a leader.

Cook (Liberty): You must be a self-starter who adapts quickly and prioritizes well. It's also import-ant to be intellectually curious, with an unquenchable desire to absorb new information. It also helps to have a knack for reading people.

Kajani (NYU): Someone who is sharp, entrepreneurial, a team player, a quick learner, malleable, and a strong communicator.

Millas (Syracuse): Someone who is a strategic thinker, social, a strong writer, knowledgeable about their organizations or clients, and has excellent interpersonal skills.

Trybus (Georgetown): Beyond the traditional PR skills, an outstanding PR pro needs to be diplomatic, sensible, strategic, adaptable, and have a sense of humor.

That person also thinks beyond their own self and gives back to the profession and society through both inherent and honed skills.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Describe your ideal boss for your first job in PR?

Bishop (Indiana): My ideal boss would be specific in his or her expectations and wishes for my position, but would also provide me with the judgment to make decisions in the organization's best interests.

Bruno (Florida): I want my boss to challenge me and teach me the skills I need to get to their level, or even beyond, in my career.

Chia (Penn State): Someone who lets me work on projects independently and gives me the guidance and support I need.

This person would also empower me to use my strengths to my advantage, but also help me work on improving my weaknesses.

Cook (Liberty): My ideal boss would ask tough questions and challenge me to think critically about what effective PR would look like within that organization.

Emeghara (Texas-Austin): I hope my first boss pushes me to the limit creatively. I want someone who will challenge me in a way that sets me up to be successful for the rest of my career.

Kajani (NYU): Someone who knows how to manage a team is obviously important, but the ability to enable leaders is just as vital.

Trybus (Georgetown): An ideal boss fosters a sense of community and transparency within the organization's workplace.

Also, I have found in my experiences that the younger generation of practitioners will not tolerate inept bosses for long. There's a lot of competition for jobs, but there's also competition for competent, young talent.

The write way
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): The poor quality of writing among those entering the industry has been a lament of industry pros for years. How do you respond to that?

Bishop (Indiana): As someone with a journalism background, I strive for proper grammar, spelling, and style. However, some PR programs might have lessened their focus on quality writing. In turn, some new pros are less prepared in that area.

Bruno (Florida): I recall a piece of advice someone in the industry told me: no matter how much experience you have, if you can't write well or articulate clearly, no one will take you seriously.

Cook (Liberty): Creative ideas are important in PR, but the ability to communicate in a structured, resonant way is paramount. Anyone who is serious about PR must practice blogging and write sample pieces to really hone those writing skills.

Millas (Syracuse): I have always taken pride in my writing skills, but I notice that many other PR students I've worked with are severely lacking in this area. While the traditional offline writing values might have diminished over the years, online writing is still very important to me.

Trybus (Georgetown): It's hard to paint a broad brushstroke, but, unfortunately, I agree with that assessment that the overall quality of writing among those entering the industry is not up to standard.

Writing is a PR skill that must be mastered regardless of one's role within the field. We must be able to write clearly, concisely, and persuasively. The only way to gain those skills is through practice, practice, and more practice. A good editor helps, too.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What's the most valuable advice you've received about the profession?

Chia (Penn State): Think twice before you answer that question, but think fast.

Cook (Liberty): Criticism should be seen as a growth opportunity, not a personal attack. In such a high-pressure industry, there is no hand-holding or back-patting. Every PR pro will face criticism. One's response to it is what matters.

Emeghara (Texas-Austin): If you're going to fail, fail fast. As PR professionals, we must be able to figure out when things are going wrong and shift direction quickly.

Kajani (NYU): Don't be afraid. Take risks.

Millas (Syracuse): Gary Grates, an adjunct professor of mine, once said, "Anyone can get an education and learn the basics in PR. All you have besides your education are your ideas – and your ideas will get you ahead of everyone else."

Trybus (Georgetown): Listen to your heart and always go with your gut. It is acceptable to make mistakes. In fact, there's good that comes from failure.

Recognizing excellence
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What is the most significant contribution PR makes to corporate reputation?

Bishop (Indiana): PR encourages honest, open communication with the public and advances the free flow of information.

Bruno (Florida): In an era when one tweet, blog, or Web post can damage a company's reputation for years, PR pros play a vital role in maintaining positive relationships and trust with various publics on whom the organization depends for its success and survival.

Chia (Penn State): Its way of garnering what others will see in a given company.

Cook (Liberty): The bulk of PR's contribution to corporate reputation lies in research. A company can't effectively communicate with its publics until it knows what they think. The PR team's job is to find out what constituents are thinking and saying – and then engage them in conversation.

Kajani (NYU): Protecting and upholding a corporation's reputation.

Millas (Syracuse): The biggest contribution we can make is ensuring transparency and making a corporation understand the repercussions of unethical business practices.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Identify one organization that you think excels on the PR front.

Bishop (Indiana): Starbucks' success can be partially attributed to its stellar reputation among US consumers. Its in-store customer experience, global CSR, and excellent brand developed primarily through word of mouth makes it America's go-to-coffee.

Chia (Penn State): Domino's Pizza. I know many will disagree with me because the company went through a tough time keeping its customers.

I appreciate its ability to recognize its problems, approach the people who are making the complaints, and say, "We're sorry. Let us make it better."

Emeghara (Texas-Austin): Apple and Coca-Cola really stick out. They have mastered the ability to communicate effectively to their consumers. They have also mastered the use of social media to accentuate their great global and community impact.

Millas (Syracuse): Amazon. It has made some mistakes over the years, but its communications team has always been quick to respond to most inquiries. The company's consistency in business objectives and product range has kept its audiences – and consumers – coming back for more.

Trybus (Georgetown): Chipotle Mexican Grill's "food with integrity" appears to not merely be a tagline, but rather ingrained in its ethos.

The chain frequently sources local and organic ingredients and has arguably changed the definition of fast food. It's encouraging to see a company able to achieve the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit.

Chipotle's example verifies that good reputation is not earned through hollow communication, but rather when communication is backed by action.

For a list of US schools with master's PR programs, traditional and online-only, click here.

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