On Friday, October 30 I was one of 14 students who attended a Consider Iowa road trip through the Pomerantz Career Center. They have these every so often with trips and tours to different businesses in a certain industry. The theme for ours was PR & Marketing; we visited three businesses and had a networking lunch with professionals in the field.
The day started bright and early at 8:30 am. A caravan of UI buses took us to the Johnson County United Way in Coralville, our non-profit stop, where Mitch Overton told us about his experiences in fundraising. A lifelong resident of Iowa City and graduate of the University of Iowa, his job is primarily based on relationship-building. The United Way is in the middle of their annual capital campaign, with their goal for 2009 being $2.73 million. A large percentage of this comes from local businesses that get their employees involved in giving.
When asked about the differences between non-profit PR and a corporation or agency, Overton said that he likes how personal working for a smaller branch can be.
“If I have an idea for something, I can just walk down the hall and talk to my boss about,” he said, “where at other places it could be ‘fill out these forms, then wait a couple weeks…’” He said that being a smaller branch of a nationally known name like the United Way is especially helpful when putting together campaigns, since the national office puts together all of the marketing materials. Overton and the other four full-time employees can then personalize the campaign to most effectively appeal to the people of Johnson County.
Our next stop was the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort. The behind the scenes operations for that place are unreal! Riverside is especially focused on employee relations—they have many incentive programs to promote wellness and exceptional customer service. We met with Riverside’s public relations director, Sharon Haselhoff . She gave us a tour of the facilities, and we then had a Q&A session with employees from all different departments from marketing to accounting. Sharon actually has a degree in political science, but got involved with PR when trying to persuade Washington County voters to vote yes for the casino referendum five years ago.
Lunch was an amazing spread shared in a conference room at Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust with three professionals from the area. Nancy Garberson, who has spoken at our meetings, was there from Marketing and Communications Strategies, Inc. (http://www.mcshome.com) in Cedar Rapids. Dr. Lynn Manternach from Mind Fire Communications (http://www.mindfirecomm.com) was also in attendance, as well as Sherri Lennarson from Banker’s Advertising Company (http://www.bankersadvertising.com), who was the speaker at my table.
Lennarson has worked at Banker’s her entire career, involved in promotional products, or basically anything tangible you can put your company’s name on. Think pens, Koozies, pizza cutters, lip balms—if you come up with a way you want to promote your company, Banker’s can put your name on anything. They’ve recently collaborated with the Avoid the Stork campaign and made the lip balms and cups they hand out on campus.
Promotional products are an interesting way to market because, as Sherri said, “People actually thank you for your advertisement,” when you give them a promotional product. A study they once did showed that almost everyone in a supermarket had at least one pen with a company’s name on it, and most customers could usually tell you exactly what the pen said.
Lennarson was also all about building your personal brand. “What message do you want to convey about yourself?” She has gone so far as to pick a personal color and motto that she hands out on products. We were all given neon green wristlets that said “Having fun and getting things done! For a friend of Sherri Lennarson,” with her contact information on it, full of pocket Kleenex, Shout wipes, and other handy incidentals that can easily be thrown in a backpack.
Our final stop was Metro Studios in Hiawatha—talk about a hidden gem! This company started as a video production place, but now focuses more on marketing. They have everything from a graphic designer, Web developers, and a recording studio, to a room for shooting commercials complete with a green screen, and a full service kitchen where “Metro Moms” come in and bake them cookies! You can check them out at http://www.metro-studios.com
Each place offered so much great advice and insight into the industry, your eyes would glaze over if I tried to blog about it all. So first of all: PLEASE take advantage of opportunities like this through the Pomerantz Center. At first I was unsure that I wanted to devote my entire Friday pre-Halloween to a school trip, but I’m so glad I did. The networking I got to do with professionals in the area was invaluable (the free lunch was an added perk!)
Secondly, there were a few points that everyone seemed to re-iterate.
1. Don’t limit yourself. Most of the professionals we spoke to had no plan to go into PR or took a non-traditional path to get where they are. They all advised to try a variety of things in college to really find what you’re truly passionate about.
2. Take risks. They may not always pay off, but not only will you learn a lot from your failures, future employers love to hear of a time you learned from a mistake and turned it into a growing experience.
3. Find something you love and do it! This may be easier said than done, but those we spoke with all have a contagious passion for what they do. Every single person said they honestly love waking up to do what they do every day—if you’re not happy in life, change it!
By: Brittney Wichtendahl