Spring Break in England

Written by: James Kelleher

This past spring break, eleven classmates and myself were lucky enough to travel to England to work with our senior capstone client, Destination Florida. The organization is a non-profit children’s charity that takes roughly 75 seriously ill children from the U.K. to Florida for a theme park vacation every two years.DF

Initially, the class was split into three agencies and worked on the organization’s “business” for six weeks. We all spent time communicating back and forth with Destination Florida, and developed close relationships with our client’s employees— Paul Bailey and Ben Morrison. Both gentlemen were so gracious with their time and engagement throughout the project. It was very clear to us that this was more than just a job for these two, which I believe had an impact on the entire class.

This was an organization that was transforming the lives of children all across the United Kingdom. Some of the children have never and may never have the chance to do the things that we often take advantage of. They miss out on things like playing sports, going to school regularly, or completing simple daily tasks by themselves. However, through their trips, Destination Florida establishes confidence, independence and freedom within these children—tangible traits that can forever change the way the child lives their life. Once Paul and Ben communicated this to us, I think everyone in the class was more than ready to tackle the campaign with their agency.

Motivated and determined, the three agencies collaborated separately for around four weeks in preparation for our trip to England. Once we pitched in front of the trustees and volunteers, it was clear each agency brought something unique and useful to the table. All three agencies were well prepared, fluent and polished in their presentations—which all took a different perspective on the organization. Although they did pick a winner (because they had to), it was clear each agency won in their own way.

This international capstone experience was beneficial for us in terms of resume building, networking and simply being able to travel to England for a week. However, the biggest benefit was having the opportunity to work with a client that we truly cared about. Many times in strategic communications you may be tasked with a client or campaign you don’t necessarily feel connected to. Through Destination Florida, I gained exposure to working with a client that actually deserved the attention and promotion that we could provide. It was rewarding to work with an organization that is doing great things for great kids every single day.

Looking back on our experience, I’ll remember the London Eye, Big Ben and The Cavern Club among many other experiences. However, the fact that our participation in this class could positively impact an ill child’s life forever is the biggest takeaway of them all.James_DF___


Q & A with Katie Heller

As college students, we are all pretty anxious about what the future holds post-graduation. Job hunting can be extremely stressful… especially if you’re not sure what industry you want to go into. Katie Heller, like many of us, was once in this predicament. Heller began her college career as a social work major because she wanted to make a difference. After a life changing internship opportunity, she decided to switch her major to strategic communications in order to affect change in a different way. With public policy being her main focus, Heller began her political career volunteering for the Obama administration. She was able to land an internship, and ultimately a job at the White House. Heller, a former PRSSA member and WVU graduate, was kind enough to provide us with some insight and advice based on her amazing experience.

Katie Heller photo

The following are eight questions that we asked along with Heller’s written responses.

1. Tell us a little about your job and what it entails on a day to day basis? 

My last job ended with the turnover of the White House Administration. In my previous position, I was an Advance Associate for 2 years. This entails traveling on behalf of the Administration to set up events and scheduling logistics for the President and Vice President of the United States. I would travel domestically to prepare rallies, town hall events, fundraisers and the like. The last 10 months of my job focused more on international travel to work with foreign governments at meetings such as the G20 Summit, World Economic Forum, and other global and United Nations events.

2. How did you get into the position you’re in today?

I began my Advance role after building connections through the White House Internship and staying in touch with colleagues until after I graduated in December 2014.

3. When did you decide that you wanted to work in Government/Public Affairs and what influenced you?

I enrolled at WVU as a Social Work major, where I studied that field until the beginning of my junior year. After a couple summer internships at a drug and mental health rehab facility, I realized that I was drawn towards fixing the policies that eventually trickled down to the individual centers rather than the day to day job of a social worker. Simultaneously, I decided to start volunteering on the Obama 2012 presidential campaign in Morgantown. After some thorough consideration on my next steps and the practicality of pursuing policy, I decided to change my major to Public Relations with a minor in Political Science. To me, this offered me a route that was easily transferable to different industries if I later decided I didn’t want to pursue politics and policy anymore. It has definitely been one of the most valuable and transformative decisions I’ve made. My passion continued to grow through my involvement in Young Dems and SGA.

4. What is the most challenging part of working in Government/Public Affairs?

As I am experiencing now, working in government can be a bit of a gamble. If you choose to work for a specific politician or campaign, your job is reliant on their electability. Recently, my candidates time came to an end and now those in the Democratic Party are experiencing a transition as the Republican party fills many of the vacant government positions. That’s just how the cycle works, for better or worse.

Additionally, from my experience, government and public affairs work can get frustrating due to the ever-changing political climate. You may be focused on a specific policy [health care, immigration, education, etc.] but it must be put to the wayside for a bit to focus on the most current and relevant issue, even if you’re not personally as passionate about it.

5. Did you want to work, or have you worked in any other aspect of PR?

When applying for internships for summer 2014, I sent in an application to Second City (a renowned comedy club in Chicago) and the White House. I was equally interested in both and figured fate would decide. I was accepted to the White House Internship and never heard back from Second City. Now that I’m currently facing the job application process again, I’ve reconsidered the comedy and entertainment world a bit.

6. What were you involved in while in undergrad? Anything specifically that you think led you to the career you have today?

As I mentioned a bit before, I was heavily involved in Young Democrats and Student Government at WVU. As well as PRSSA and Student Advocates for Legislative Advancement. I would say they all were very formative in where I am today.

Young Democrats helped to further feed my passion for politics and campaigning. It kept me up to date with current trends in the political realm and provided me opportunities to work with elected officials in the state. Through this experience, I was able to intern for Senator Manchin on Capitol Hill with his press team.

Student Government provided me with leadership experience and forced me out of my comfort zone. I HATED public speaking or introducing myself to other students. I’m rather introverted naturally, so it’s taken some training and time to make me comfortable around people I don’t know. I credit a lot of my personal and professional growth to my experience with SGA and my year serving on the Board of Governors. It’s paid off a lot in being able to interact with colleagues in senior leadership positions and the confidence to be an effective decision-maker in my own regard.

PRSSA helped with learning how to appropriately network and build my own brand. No matter what career path you choose, you are a brand, and that can either make you or break you. Going to the annual conferences and taking workshops through the organization allowed me to practice networking skills that I still use consistently.

7. Katie, can you talk a little about your internship at Edelman and at The White House?

The White House Internship, without a doubt, got me to where I am in my career. I worked in the Office of Presidential Personnel on the National Security team. In this role, I did a lot of HR focused work to help fill vacant Ambassador positions, as well as openings in the Department of Defense, Peace Corp, State Department and USAID. Working through hiring process was beneficial on a personal level as I learned how to enhance my resume and interview skills and I could see what would make or break a candidate. The internship program also offered lecture series where interns would meet with senior officials (speechwriters, chief of staff, schedulers, etc) and learn the day to day inner-workings of the White House. It allowed me to build an invaluable network of people that I remain in contact with today.

As a Graduate Intern for Edelman, I was placed on the Food and Nutrition Policy team. This team consults with companies such as Taco Bell, Coca Cola, Dannon, etc. My internship overlapped with the congressional vote for the Dietary Guidelines (how much sugar you’re supposed to consume in a day, how many calories, and other info you see on nutrition labels). It made it a very interesting time to work on that team. It was very research heavy and one of the most hands-on internships I’ve had. I felt more like part of the team rather than just the intern. It also provided a very clear path to being able to get hired on full time after 3-6 months. They also provide weekly “brown bag lunches” where interns can talk to senior members from different teams to get a better feel of the overall company. I couldn’t say enough great things about my experience there and the ethics of the company, but I ended up taking the White House job instead of the Edelman one.

8. What advice do you have for those about to graduate on finding a job?

My advice is to keep in contact with mentors and continuously build your network. It is possible to blindly apply for a job, but it will be exponentially easier to get an interview if you can get a recommendation from someone on the inside. LinkedIn is also a great resource to find out if you know someone at a company you’re interested in. No matter where you are in your career, it can always pay off to grab coffee with someone and chat about opportunities so don’t be timid in asking to meet up with a mentor. Be prepared to talk about what you want to do and don’t be afraid to ask questions.


3 Takeaway Tips for Senior Mountaineers

Written by: Blaithe Tarley

“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


“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.


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?