3 Takeaway Tips for Senior Mountaineers

Written by: Blaithe Tarley

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“Communication is all about bringing people together,” said Rebecca Shapiro, Google Agency Account Strategist. This statement was proven the weekend of Feb. 3 at The Pennsylvania State University as PRSSA chapters from the local region gathered together to expand their public relations knowledge and put their skills to the test.

The weekend conference flew by as we hustled from one session to another and mingled with fellow media lovers. It kicked off with a Friday night pitch competition and hors d’oeuvres in mixed groups. Each team was given a hypothetical problem based on a popular movie.

The next day, early bird breakfast was served and immediately flowed into the Keynote Speech by Christina Cassotis, CEO of Allegheny County Airport Authority. Afterwards, attendees had two presentation options for two breakout sessions prior to the “Etiquette Luncheon” with proper dining tips and recommendations. We finished the busy day with a final breakout session that also had two speaker options, and a wrap up presentation from Emily Pirt, Regional Conference Director.

Throughout the event, I listened to many successful professionals discuss their perspectives and experiences within the PR world. As I sat in the audience and scribbled notes in my small leather notebook, I found three main tips and recommendations to assist students’ “getting out in the real world” journey:

  1. Focus on where you DON’T want to go– My first presentation choice for Breakout Session 1 was Rebecca Shapiro. She discussed her nontraditional PR experience Google and making the move to its headquarters across the country. Rebecca explained the struggles and benefits of making such a drastic move. Despite Silicon Valley’s beautiful scenery, challenging experiences and crucial connections, home was pulling at her heart strings. Rebecca couldn’t overcome the overwhelming sadness due to her lack of interaction with loved ones. This was the turning point in her career. Rebecca said “goodbye” to Silicon Valley and “hello” to New York City (a shorter distance from her family). Today, she urges students to not limit themselves to comforts of home, but to draw a radius around the area they would like to stay close to. Don’t be afraid to move and get out of your comfort zone, but ensure that it a realistic distance from connections depending on your personality and experiences. Otherwise you may find yourself missing out on submerging yourself into the office’s environment due to constant longing to be elsewhere.
  2. Don’t be afraid of opt for an internship– Zach Dogan, Media Relations Director at NYC’s Ketchum, presented during Breakout Session 2. While Zach highlighted many traditional PR tips he also discussed his experience making the transition from college student to working professional post-graduation. Zach eased the stress of many attendees as he shared his struggle to carry the title he has today. After applying to dozens of agencies across the country, he found that the only way to ease his way into the agency limelight would be through a post graduate internship. After mastering the coffee pot, copy machine and assistance tasks (all the while living in a shoebox apartment in New Jersey) he was offered a full time position that got him to where he is today. This goes to show that beggars cannot be choosers post-graduation. It may not be ideal, but intense internships and fellowships are the best ways to plant your foot in the door at an organization, company or agency even after walking across stage to receive that diploma!
  3. Stop worrying, be confident and get out there– Christina Cassotis, Keynote Speaker, took some time to explain to her journey to success during her speech. She began her higher education without a clue as to what she wanted to do. In turn, she dropped out of college during her sophomore year and landed a bartending job where she worked for 6 years. When she finally made the trek back to campus, she chose to major in English at the University of Massachusetts. One of the key memos that she insisted we engrain in our brains was to not stress. Life will take you in all sorts of directions but present multiple opportunities in the end. It is your duty to decide what fits best. As seniors anxiously wait for calls back from potential employers and wonder if their extensive portfolios and polished resumes will be enough, Christina urges students to recognize their accomplishments and hard work and understand that good things will arise from them. So keep moving forward and enjoy the ride.blaithe-2

Networking 101

Written by: Jake Byrne

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“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” As a college senior looking for employment, if I get this piece of advice one more time, I’m going to hurl. I get it, we get it, this whole generation gets that employment now is all about connections. The only problem is, we don’t have any.

So where do we go from here? We’re in the process of spending years and money getting a college education. We have ideas, skillsets, and goals we want to put into a fulfilling career or internship, but even getting a foot in the door seems as big and impossible a challenge as climbing Mount Everest.

To help you discover those connections, I’m going to give you five pieces of advice for finding, building, and making the most out of your network. We can call this a lesson on networking 101.

So what qualifies me to teach this class? Over the last four y
ears of college, I have cultivated a multitude of experiences with an extensive network of professionals. I’ve met agency VP’s at conferences and found a way to watch ball games with them. I’ve met corporate communications directors in hotel lobbies and convinced them to grab coffee with me. Even further, I have put these connections together, both alumni and personal, to help me find a corporate internship with General Motors.

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So how did I make all of this happen? Living by these 5 simple networking rules.

  1. Attend as many conferences & professional events as possible – ya know those Vegas buffets where there’s so much food, you literally couldn’t taste everything if you wanted? Conferences and professional events are the networking equivalent of a Vegas smorgasbord (except better because you don’t end up bloated & gassy).
    • WVU’s chapter of PRSSA attends national and regional conference every year, we attend the PRSA Pittsburgh Professional development day, we embarked upon two agency visits and the list goes on and on. Each of those events have provided members with key note speakers, presenters, attendees, organizers, sponsors – a never ending list of professionals to rub elbows with.
  2. TALK to people at the conference/event – simply attending these events and snagging as many freebies (I love me some free pens) as possible is not going to cut developing a network. You need to approach people.
    • Approach the speaker after the conclusion, talk about a key point or bring up a question that remains.
    • Creep on a presenter’s LinkedIn during their speech so you have prepared questions. Don’t be afraid to bring up an out of the box topic or something that wasn’t approached in the talk.
    • Watch the coordination of the events. See who is in charge, bring up discussion with the organizer of the conference.
  3. Say hi & smile at everyone – this rule applies to both conferences as well as life in general. You have no idea when someone in the elevator, approaching you at work, or the person sitting next to you at the airport has the capacity or the professional knowledge to help you.
    • Staying in Atlanta Georgia, I had accidentally lost my hotel key, so I walked my forgetful self down to the lobby to ask the front desk for a new one. In the long line for check-in, I started making small talk with the gentleman behind me. What’s your name? Where ya from? The basics. As we approach the front of the line ready to part ways, he asks for my business card (we’ll get to that in my next point), we exchange cards and separate on our merry way. Not until I’m riding the elevator up to my room with my fresh new hotel key in my pocket do I take a look at the business card and find out that I just connected with the communications director of a major television network. Lost hotel key turns into major connection – you never know where it’s going to happen.
  4. Always carry a business card (and be sure to ask for one in return) – having your business card shows initiative and provides professionals with a way to get in touch with you. Even more important than you handing off your business card, this provides the opportunity to ASK FOR ONE IN RETURN – gifting you with contact info, emails, phone numbers, and tons of other ways to get in touch that a google search won’t.
    • Meeting professionals in happen stance situations (like above) is awesome, but what isn’t so awesome is getting home 24 hours later thinking about that connection, and forgetting their last name and company. Knowing that their name is John and they work in NYC will yield you 182,000,000 google search results in .8 seconds (trust me I’ve tried that exact search before). Make sure the connection has all your contact info from your business card, and ensure that you also have theirs.
  5. Follow up – the initial connection is barley the start of making the most out of your network. Whoever your connection is most likely has a million things flying through their mind, ranging from work, to home, to the math concepts they need to learn before they can tutor their kid. Your job here is to find a way through all their hectic activity to make sure you can stay in the forefront as a friendly face.
    • After initial contact send a follow up email within the week. Thank them for their time and include a few specifics from your conversation (I always like to take notes about the initial conversation on their business card and use those as a reference).
    • DON’T JUST LEAVE IT THERE. Find additional ways to keep in contact later. Maybe a month later it’s a non-secular holiday (4th of July). Send them a quick note saying you hope they enjoy the day, and see if they have some time in the next week for a phone conversation about the current state of the industry. You see their name as a keynote speaker for an event. Attend the speech and carve out some time to connect with them afterwards. Basically find non-creepy ways to keep in touch on a regular basis to deepen the connection.

Always remember – most professionals have a desire to help, mentor, and see young professionals succeed. The best way to make that happen is to connect with them – to shake off your nerves, approach a professional and let your personality and your skillset shine.jake-blog_1

Service Learning with Mon County Habitat for Humanity

Written by: Lyndsey Bowers

For the 2016 fall semester, I had the privilege of partnering with local community organization, Mon County Habitat for Humanity (MCHFH). The organization was founded on the belief that everyone deserves a safe, durable place to live. Since its establishment, MCHFH has completed 42 homes, providing housing for over 180 individuals. Since I was participating in a service learning class in the Reed College of Media, I worked with a partner to implement our objectives for MCHFH. Most of our interactions with the organization were with executive director, Shawnda Cook. Despite some initial obstacles, the service learning experience was incredibly positive and allowed my partner and me to develop both professionally and personally.

Although the situation was not ideal during the first few weeks, it served as an educational experience for us. We learned that it is important to always remain in touch with clients, and get as much regular feedback as possible. We were also forced to set our own objectives and work independently during this period. This was an important lesson for us because as college students, we seek constant validation and communication with professors. However, we proved to ourselves that we could produce high quality work with little direction. This experience also taught us the need to take responsibility for our own learning. In order to excel we had to initiate contact with the community partners and persist despite the obstacles.

Answering to a real client taught us the importance of punctuality, presentation and adhering to deadlines. Partnering with MCHFH also allowed us to gain insight into the operations and needs of non-profit organizations. For example, we learned that MCHFH runs entirely on volunteer work. This means that labor is focused in areas with the most need, such as specific building sites rather than public relations or social media. Similarly, the partnership was an important experience for us to complete prior to entering the workforce because it allowed us to see that public relations and advertising work can be rewarding and helpful to those who are less fortunate. It is often easy for students to aspire to high income careers with big establishments such as fast food companies or fashion labels, however, it was important to see that the skills we have acquired in college can be used to help the less fortunate and nonprofit organizations.

The most rewarding part of our journey with MCHFH was sharing our work with Shawnda Cook. Her face lit up when we presented it to her, and she even requested copies to put into use. The idea that the assignments we had completed were going beyond the classroom, and would be beneficial to the organization was amazing to us. Ultimately regardless of several ups and downs over the semester, our partnership with Mon County Habitat for Humanity was an incredibly rewarding learning experience that we will value throughout our future endeavors.

Bringing Hope to a Suffering Community

By: Elizabeth Frattarole

Imagine a rainy summer day turning into one of the deadliest floods in 2016, then suddenly losing everything you own… This was the situation for thousands of West Virginia residents this summer.

The Flooding

Residents in 44 West Virginia counties faced property loss and the loss of loved ones swept away by waters that destroyed many bridges and roadways. In eight hours, more than nine inches of rain drenched the W.Va. counties causing streams and rivers to swell and overflow their banks. The flooding was reportedly due to a lineup of thunderstorms over the same location. The flood was the third deadliest on record in West Virginia, according to West Virginia state climatologist Kevin Law.

PRSSA High School Outreach

Almost five months after the flooding in June, state officials announced the rebuilding of five schools heavily damaged in the storm. One of these schools was Richwood High Sctrailors-prssahool. Many students were left without clothing, food and even their homes by the time school began. Rebuilding homes and schools, and receiving materials needed to survive is critical for many parents and members of the community. Classes at Richwood HS are currently being held in an old and much smaller middle school with added on trailers to accommodate all students.

West Virginia University Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) decided to organize a W.Va flood relief supply drive at the WVU Reed College of Media. WVU PRSSA reached out to student organizations, faculty and students to donate non-perishable items for Richwood HS. In addition to the supply drive, a blanket drive was organized to make blankets to donate to the local children’s hospital and the people of Richwood. Once items were collected James Kelliher (WVU PRSSA member) and I traveled from Morgantown, W.Va to Richwood, W.Va to donate the supplies.

wvu-prssaWhile visiting Richwood HS, we had the opportunity to mentor high school students who recently opened a consignment shop called Ax Factor. This store provides accessible and affordable clothing to an area lacking access to clothing stores. The nearest clothing store is a forty-five minute drive from Richwood, and many parents cannot afford to take their children shopping. The goal is to market the store as an upscale consignment shop, and create a scholarship for students to pursue higher education in the future. The founders of the business (Caitlin Cowell, Lauren Lee, Chelsey Adkins and Carissa Campbell) needed guidance in advertising and social media use to promote their business. We explained to the students how much power social media has over small business, how to set up a social media account and how to create compelling content. WVU PRSSA agreed to help them create a website, a press release and a flyer for their grand opening event.

WVU PRSSA hopes to continue its relationship with Richwood High School throughout the semester. We plan on collecting more donations and taking another trip to help with the rebuilding of homes. We hope WVU students, faculty and members of the Morgantown community continue to support this cause.

For more information about Ax Factor please follow them on Twitter @Ax_Factor__

Key Takeaways of Participating in a CreateAthon

Written by: Alicia Mayle

On Nov. 11, 2016, I had the opportunity to re-brand a non-profit and create new content for them within a 24-hour timeline during a CreateAthon. I worked with an amazing group of 15 strangers in creating a new logo, website, brochure, video, business card, letterhead, and presentation for Preston County Workshop. PCW (Preston County Workshop) is a non-profit organization that provides opportunities of employment to individuals with and without disabilities, while also integrating them into the community. I can tell you that this experience was eye opening.

What is a CreateAthon?

CreateAthon is a national organization that was founded in 1998 in Columbia, SC, by Teresa Coles and Cathy Monetti. This organization was created to provide a platform where professionals could work with non-profits doing pro bono creative work.

The Reed College of Media took that model and created one of its own. It welcomed students to put their skills to the test by creating outstanding work that non-profits in Morgantown and the surrounding area could use.

What are My Key Takeaways?

Going into this project, I partly assumed that nothing would get done, my team, who I had not met, would argue half of the night (because we all know that PR & Advertising students are strong minded individuals), and we would disappoint our non-profit. This didn’t happen, it was quite the opposite!

Walking away from the project, I took some important lessons with me.

  1. Give the brand a voice before creating the content. After getting our assignment, the PCW team disbanded and started working on ideas that were not as cohesive as they should have been. After re-grouping with our contact and hearing how he wanted to give the brand a voice, we put aside our work and decided to start fresh. We were fortunate enough to be given video content and found our voice in the employees of PCW.
  1. Don’t get upset if you don’t know a certain application. I walked in and had already decided that I wanted to be the copy girl. This meant that I only wanted to write the content for the new products. However, this was done within the first few hours and being copy-edited throughout the night. I was internally upset because I felt that I was useless, but in the end, I sat down with a girl who was working on the brochure through InDesign and ended up learning a new skill.

My team leader, Angela Sparachane had this to say, “It’s rewarding to see materials created by students who started the event as strangers. CreateAthon brings people together who otherwise may not have met.”

  1. Integrate the theme in all products. Our team was fortunate enough to have a few awesome design students who created a style guide that we worked from throughout the night. We used the same font, colors, and tagline on all of our products. This gave Preston County Workshop a professional feel while also keeping the welcoming aspect that we felt was important to the non-profit.
  1. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know your team. Working on something as important as re-branding and creating new products for a non-profit is daunting. If you don’t know your team, you may worry that you won’t work well together. Trust me, sitting down for an hour and getting to know your team will be beneficial. Then when you break into teams such as…
  • Copy
  • Design
  • Video

….you’ll get a real feeling of how your team members work.

  1. Drink caffeine, bring a toothbrush, and wear comfortable clothes. Being locked in a building for 24 hours is tough work. Luckily, caffeine was provided to all three teams, and we worshiped the ground the CreateAthon team walked on for delivering it to our rooms. We were also provided toothbrushes and trust me, we were all thankful! Comfy clothes are also essential, especially by the end of the night when you’re all sleep deprived and spread out on the floor.

The CreateAthon team did an amazing job putting this event together. All of the team leaders were supportive on a group and individual level. Each team member walked away from this with a portfolio of work, the ability to say that they can work under stress and a demonstration that they can work with a group of strangers to create something amazing.

Who says nothing good happens after midnight?

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5 Tips from a Young Strategic Communicator

Written By: Emaad Shirazie

In pursuit of my Strategic Communications degree, I’ve learned about a bevy of useful tactics, tools and best practices. Case studies, unique advertising pieces and communication campaigns have all inspired my passion for this industry, and sustain my optimism for where my career will take me.  But, without discrediting my instructors and academic advisors, most of my learning actually happened outside of the classroom.

Joining a student-run Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) agency exposed me to the functional side of StratComm. It showed me that the importance of working on a project that isn’t class-prompted lies in the value of experiential learning. In almost no other way would I have been able to respect the information I’d learned in class without it. Whether it’s a full-fledged campaign or a loyal client feeding you more accounts, these key takeaways still shine through:

  • Listen closely – Project managers and clients, or anyone who’s requesting your help, has an outcome they wish to reach. It’s important to make sure you’ve heard everything they want for the project, and have addressed key insights that will guide your work. Being a good listener comes in handy, and paying attention to the details can help you solve problems further down the line.
  • Advise tactfully – They may have brought you the work, but their desire for success can often distract managers and clients from how to get there. External factors can even change the course of a campaign, shaking the manager off course and leaving you without direction. There is almost always a solution you see that they can’t – work through their apprehensions and speak their language to help them see success.
  • Be resourceful – In some cases, this means having a contact list full of ideal potential contributors. In others, it means having access to tools that others don’t. There will be times when the manager or client will leave asset allocation up to you. Stay relevant, and be realistic about what your potential assets can be. We strategic communicators are tacticians at heart – know what the plan is, but get ready to think on your feet.
  • Elasticity – The plan will almost always change. Whether it’s the main goal, or the people you’re working with, changes can and will happen during a campaign. It’s important to be resilient, and bounce back quickly from changes, foreseen or otherwise.
  • Never stop learning – What most of these points will boil down to is a fairly simple, but crucial message that strategic communicators must use in their day-to-day endeavors. Whether the project is big or small, whether it takes an hour or a year, whether you’re the only contributor, or your team is 100 strong; remember to be receptive to the implicit and explicit lessons that you’ll encounter. You’re more than likely to learn something new to use in another campaign, project or account in the future.

Four Ethical Considerations to Remember When Advocating for a Cause

By Nadia Anderson

I’ve always been an outspoken person, determined to speak up for those without a voice, even when it’s an unpopular thing to do. So when I came to college and chose PR as my major, I knew I had to apply my passion for advocacy to my chosen career field. I applied to be a campus representative for animal rights organization Peta2, got the job and have been developing my public relations prowess with an advocacy focus ever since. With this position, I work to change the public perception of veganism on WVU’s campus through various outreach events I plan with my student organization, the WVU Vegan/Vegetarian Society. Our goal is to show people the many ethical, health and environmental reasons to go vegan to work toward a better world.

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Being able to spread a message you’re passionate about is a great opportunity, but there are some important ethical considerations to keep in mind when advocating for a cause:

1) Practice respect. One of the most important things to remember is to remain respectful of everyone’s opinions, even ones that contradict the very idea that you represent. The PRSA Code of Ethics says that we must “respect all opinions and support the right of free expression,” which is something I’ve always tried to do in my role as a representative for an often controversial subject. I have to remain calm and listen to what others have to say, even if I may not agree with their viewpoints.

2) Provide necessary information. The Code also says we should “provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.” In adherence p4to this, I make sure as a campus representative to act as a responsible advocate, and give people all the facts to back up what we’re trying to accomplish in a non-judgmental way. I believe it’s best to simply give people the information, allowing them to decide for themselves how to use it. You can plant the seeds in their minds, but they must water the seeds to enable them to grow.

3) Be honest. It’s important that the information you give to people is always accurate, even though at times it may be easier to simply make up a fact or statistic when you’re put on the spot. Although presenting a falsehood could help your cause and most people wouldn’t bothep6r fact checking, you have to remain truthful in times of doubt. For instance, when people ask me about specific animal agriculture statistics and I’m unsure about exact numbers, I either look up the correct fact or refer them to a source where they can look up the information themselves. Admitting that you don’t (and can’t) know everything shows character, which will reflect your employer in a positive way.

4) Choose something you love. A final thing to keep in mind if advocacy work is something that interests you, is the type of organization you would most like to represent. While you obviously have to advocate for whatever employer you choose to work for, it is best if you’re advocating for a cause you truly believe in. If you’re truly passionate about something, you’ll make for the best type of advocate. You’ll feel the most fulfilled in doing something you love that influences the world in a positive way.