The Reality of PR: A Survivor’s Guide to the Public Relations World (Penn State Regional Activity)

This past weekend I went to my last Regional Activity (very bittersweet).  But after working with Andrea Crawford all year, I was so happy to see the event come together.  The event was called The Reality of PR: A Survivor’s Guide to the Public Relations World.  They had a great social on Friday night and a day full of excellent speakers on Saturday.  In addition to the speakers, they had an etiquette luncheon and networking reception.  Many schools from around the region came, and the committee made everything run very smoothly.  Congratulations on a great event!

Steve Manuel, Professor at Penn State University

In addition to being a former Penn State professor, Steve Manuel is also a former public affairs officer for the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Marine Corps spokesman.  His stories about his adventures doing photojournalism and other PR work were very interesting, and the engagement he had of his students was very inspiring (and reminded me of my PRSSA Faculty Adviser, Steve Quigley).  A few things that stood out in my mind when he spoke were the following.

  • 10% of people working on a group project will not pull their wait.  As students, we can definitely relate to that (or even say 10% may be underestimated).
  • We spoke about how it has been over 10 years since the 9/11 tragedy and we still have not found Osama bin Laden.  But what would happen if we actually found him?  What would the government do?  What would the public demand?  And who would become our new “#1 target?”  There will always be a new bad guy.
  • He also said you should always have a communications objective in your pocket.  And make sure you are clear about what your objective is.

After his presentation, we played PR Jeopardy.  There were questions about PR History, Agencies, AP Style the National Committee (I was an answer!) and Penn State.  My team won, and the Regional Activity committee gave us t-shirts, cups and a zip drive!

Michael Hinman, Account Executive & Media Manager at Environmental PR Group

The keynote speaker came all the way from Tampa to speak to us about environmental PR.  He started off by giving us some background about the work he does and some environmental PR issues.  Then he gave us some suggestions when dealing with media relations.  He cited Steve Jobs as an example of someone who has the ability to tell us what we want before we even know we want it.  That is how you have to treat media relations.  The Internet helps us create and own a conversation, but you also have to tailor your message to every audience.  Every target audience has their own wants and needs, and it is our job to figure out what that is.  Personalize your outreach by looking up every beat and publication of the people you are pitching to.  Utilizing social media is great, but you have to have followers and an established base or it will not do any good.

He also talked to us a bit about SEO news releases.  He showed us his own example that he did for Water Optimizer.  He told us that reporters have less time than ever before, and it is important as PR professionals to do anything you can to make it easier for a reporter to do research on your story.  They do not have the time to do in depth research like they used to so this is our opportunity to do it for them so we can still have the story published.

Ron Smith, Senior Lecturer at Penn State University

I next went to a technology session where they taught us how to use Illustrator.  It was a great refresher about some of the basic tools you need to know to use the program.  I thought this was an excellent addition to the Regional Activity.  They also had an InDesign workshop later in the day.

Jeff Boggie, Chef-Instructor at Penn State University

During lunch, we had an etiquette presentation.  There were some interesting tips he gave us about how to present ourselves in a business setting.

  • Deliver a firm handshake.
  • Stand when introduced or being introduced.
  • Travel light (you need both hands).
  • Don’t go in cold.  Have a purpose, be prepared and visualize.
  • Walk the walk aka be confident.
  • Follow up with questions about them.  Show you are interested in them.
  • Don’t arrive hungry.
  • Do not treat staff poorly.

He also displayed the following diagram to show us what utensils are used for the different courses.

Mindy Bianca, Public Relations Director at Hershey Entertainment and Resorts and Cara O’Donnell, Associate Vice President of Public Relations at Tierney

The next session I attended was about tourism PR.  This session was the most engaging session of the day.  Both Mindy and Cara are former journalists so they understand PR in a unique way.  They stressed the importance of having a background in journalism or at least interning in journalism.  When you have this background, you understand what the media is looking for and can tailor your news releases to that.  You also learn the structure of a news room and know who to pitch.

They spoke about the tourism and travel industry being more proactive than reactive.  It is also built on relationships that take years to develop. They told us some funny stories about some of the ways they have developed these relationships with journalists.  Even though they were funny, they proved to be successful relationships for both parties.

Even though travel and tourism PR seems very glamorous because of all the traveling, they did stress the long hours.  When you are traveling during the day, you have to do work all night that you didn’t get to finish during the day.

They also gave us some interviewing advice.  Present yourself well from the moment you walk into a building because you are interviewing with everyone from the receptionist who welcomes you to the recruiter.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.  Have inner-confidence without being arrogant.

Meredith Topalanchik, Vice President & Director, Client Services at CooperKatz

This session was about agency life and a lot of the decisions you need to make when you are in an entry-level position.

  • Don’t accept a job on the spot.  If they want you, they can wait.
  • There is no other place you can get as much experience right out of college than a PR agency.
  • Most work is in media relations.  It is very valuable to learn how to pitch.
  • Your organizational style will change within the first year.

Patricia Whalen, Assistant Professor at DePaul University and Board Member of the Board of Ethics and Professional Standars of the Public Relations Society of America

To end the day, was the Ben Bronstein Lecture called “Can PR Pros Act as the Corporate Conscience.”  It was all about the ethical dilemmas that PR professionals face.

Whalen emphasized the importance of standing up for yourself.  Don’t be afraid to speak the truth to power.  It is better to get fired and find another job than engage in unethical actions.  She said to do the right thing because there is a huge benefit to both you and your organization.  By doing this, you can build up trust which will come in handy long-term.  Every organization will make a mistake at one point, but if you have built up a trust bank, the people will forgive you.

She gave us some interesting facts about the people who are practicing PR.  Many have not been trained in PR so do not always know how to work in PR.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 500,000 people practice PR but only 32,000 are in PRSA (less than 7%).

A lot of times there is a question between whether PR people or lawyers should be the ethical conscience of an organization.  But there is a difference between being legal and being ethical.

She told us to focus on strategic advocacy and enlightened self interest.  She explained that enlightened self-interest means that an organization is a member of society.  So corporate citizens benefit in the long run in reputation and profits.

Networking Reception

To conclude the day, we had a networking reception where we talked to some of the speakers and students from different schools.  Overall, Penn State did a great job putting on this conference, and I’m so glad I was able to attend!

With the Penn State Nittany Lion, Dana Bubonovich, Immediate Past President of Penn State PRSSA and the FIT PRSSA Chapter

 

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2 thoughts on “The Reality of PR: A Survivor’s Guide to the Public Relations World (Penn State Regional Activity)

  1. I’m in Penn State’s PRSSA, so I’m glad you had fun on our campus! I enjoyed reading your recap of the event. You posted some interesting things about some of the speakers that I didn’t get to attend! One thing though, Steve Manuel is still a professor at Penn State (not former). Just thought you’d like to know that! I’m going to keep reading your blog. It looks like you get to experience a lot!

  2. Pingback: 9/11/01 to 5/1/11 « Rachel Sprung on PR

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