7 Reasons a Journalism Major Will Make You Successful in PR

By Colleen Kennedy

When I started college, I knew journalism was the major for me – I wanted to work at a newspaper. However, after taking one of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s public relations courses, I quickly changed my career path.

Since then, I’ve often debated the pros and cons of being a journalism major with students who attend universities that offer a public relations major. When they talked about their various PR courses, I was jealous. But now, four years later, I’m happy for the solid foundation my journalism major gave me as I embark on my post-grad internship at a public relations agency.

Here are 7 ways being a journalist has benefited me as a young PR professional:

Writing concisely and factually—When reporters read media pitches, they want the facts written in an interesting, yet factual way. A background in journalism teaches you how to place important and compelling information in your lead. Additionally, people’s attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter—and they don’t want to read lengthy pieces.

Learning how to edit copy and use AP Style—Employers constantly discuss how many candidates’ resumes are not given a second look due to typos or grammatical errors. The same is true for public relations writing: Why would a customer trust your company or brand when your writing has errors? Also, being familiar with AP Style will help you write press releases that reporters want to use.

•  Knowing the importance of accuracy and ethics—During my reporting classes, we learned the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. With public relations scandals hitting the news frequently, defining the ethics of PR is an important issue facing the industry. Thanks to a familiarity with journalism ethics and media law, you will be one step ahead of your peers.

Being observant and knowing what makes a good story—Good journalists know the elements of a compelling story. This skill will help in public relations, because your media pitches and your news releases must be compelling. Being observant and able to gather facts to make a good story will help you write on topics that will interest reporters.

Learning how the media operates and what reporters’ needs are—After taking several journalism classes, I decided to spend a summer working at a newspaper, The Daily Iowan. While working in the newsroom, I learned the process of generating story ideas, and what information reporters need before agreeing to write a story. Now, as a PR professional, I can use my understanding of the reporting process to pitch to reporters effectively. I know that reporters need sources and are looking for different, creative stories.

Gaining the habit of reading global, national and local news—In my first SJMC class, Reporting and Writing, we had weekly quizzes on the New York Times and our local newspaper, The Daily Iowan. After the quizzes, I quickly got into the habit of reading both news outlets, as well as The Wall Street Journal. If you work in public relations, knowing what news is happening – and how you can use the news to help your client or company – is essential.

Writing in different formats and styles—In public relations, you can go from pitching media to writing a white paper to creating a media kit. Your writing must be adaptable.  First semester of my senior year, I took a course about blogging. I’ve also taken classes on reporting, writing for PR, and many others. The variety has helped strengthen my writing and made it adaptable – a skill that will help me greatly when I write for different clients at a PR agency.

Follow Colleen on Twitter @colleenrkennedy

Brand Yourself

By Alex Zaprudsky, Education Director

I don’t disagree with the person who coined the saying, “it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, but what’s on the inside.”  Believe me, I’m not condoning that being superficial is a good thing, but in the case of branding, looks play an essential role of packaging yourself. From your résumé to business card, to the cover photo on your Facebook, you are promoting yourself.  Make sure you would be impressed with what you are promoting yourself with.

Here are my tips on how to build your own personal brand.

Consistency is key!

When you send out your employment promotional package (i.e., cover letter, résumé, writing samples and reference sheet), make sure they all share the same header and font families. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to make this work, but make sure that they all are consistent.  I get mixed reviews about how I package my résumé.  I have a very graphic header with fancy fonts and it is left aligned.  Some folks love it, but my friends at the career center think I should be more traditional.  I think it’s up to you.  I have landed my dream internships at The American Youth Circus Organization and Circus Smirkus with my current package… Looks are not everything…but they certainly helped me to stand out in the crowd.

Show your wild side!

According to Under 30 CEO, creativity is one of the top-ten most important traits an employer wants to see in a future employee.  STAND OUT when you first meet someone through your creativity.  I have round business cards, and I am pictured as a clown on them. That’s unique.  If you have some basic design skills in InDesign or Photoshop, you can create striking business cards for about 25 bucks.  STAND OUT.  Use a fancy shape (the company I use has circles, squares, ovals, leaf shapes, and traditional 3.5 x 2 cards).  If you don’t want to have a circular card, design your business card so it is vertical.  Do something to make your card stand out when it is in a pile of 20 or 30 other cards. If you want to be more conservative, make your business card a different color like red or blue, so it will contrast from the pile of stark white cards.

Zaprudsky's nontraditional and unique business card.

Be true to yourself

The most important thing to remember when branding something — yourself, a company, or a product — is that you must stay true to the brand’s core values.  In this case, we’re branding ourselves. You need to be genuine and true to yourself. So when you are writing your résumé or creating your business card, remember the 8.5 x 11 sheet or 3-inch circle is a billboard promoting YOU.  Make sure they express who you are and what you stand for.

Follow Alex Zaprudsky on Twitter @AlexZaprudsky

5 Tips for Success in a PR Interview

By Colleen Kennedy, Inspire PR Co-Director

So you put your internship search skills to use, and landed an interview at your dream company. What can you expect during the interview process, and how can you be prepared?

• Writing tests are a precursor to most interviews— As we have heard time and time again, writing is the most important skill to have in PR. Before I started interviewing for internships, I had no idea that a writing test is a standard part of every PR interview. Some of the typical parts of a writing test you might see are:

  • Editing for AP Style, grammar and typos—Remember that AP Style book you bought for your reporting class? Dust it off; it will become your best friend during the writing test.
  • Press release—A large part of any PR internship is writing, and employers want to be sure your writing skills are top-notch. Double, triple, quadruple check your spelling and grammar. Don’t let a simple mistake hold you back from your dream job!
  • Tweet—In the age of social media, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to write a tweet or a Facebook post. Your potential employer wants to know you can write concisely for a digital audience in a limited amount of space.
  • Recommendation letter — (From Amy Tiffany) To add to Colleen’s list, I was asked to write the first 3-4 paragraphs of a recommendation letter. When I received feedback from the company on this section, they wanted more creativity.
  • Marketing Strategies —(From Amy Tiffany) I was also given a fictional situation where I was asked to come up with three marketing strategies or tactics. Again, think creatively and outside of the box!

***On a side note, when applying for jobs and internships in PR, companies will often ask you to include a few writing samples. Have a few on hand that you have been told from professors, bosses and mentors is your strongest writing.

• While there may be no dumb questions, but there are smart questions—At the end of an interview, the interviewer will ask if you have any questions. Use this opportunity to make you stand out, and ask smart, insightful questions. Demonstrate you’ve done your research by asking about practices within the company, or about a specific client. Don’t be afraid to get personal and ask your interviewer why he or she likes working for the company. (From Amy Tiffany) I have been told a question that has gotten a positive response was: In what areas would you like to see improvement out of your interns?

• Your professors weren’t lying when they said it’s important to follow media trends—In one interview, I was asked about a recent news story I had been following and why it interested me. Don’t be caught off guard—make sure you read the news and are informed. Additionally, if you’re applying for a job in a specific industry, read the relevant industry publications and be able to discuss news stories. Senior Vice President of Fleishman-Hillard Scott Dietz recommended students read the Wall Street Journal, as well as local news sources and the New York Times.

• It’s okay to brag during your interview—During your interview, don’t be afraid to talk confidently about your experiences and qualifications. Before you enter the interview, take a deep breath and remember you were invited to interview for a reason. Think of your interview as an opportunity to discuss your relevant PR experiences. Be confident, and make sure you smile—the interviewer is also checking to see if you’re someone they would like working with and would fit in the company culture.

Use LinkedIn to get background information on your interviewers—It can help calm your nerves if you have an idea of how much and what type of experience your interview has. Additionally, it helps to have an idea of what your interviewer looks like. During my initial email contact with a potential employer, the person I was corresponding with had a unisex name, and I assumed it was a male. When I was called for a phone interview, I was caught off guard when a woman spoke. Don’t let a minor slip-up cause you to fumble at the beginning of an interview.

Follow Colleen on Twitter: @colleenrkennedy

Tips to Help Land an Internship

By Colleen Kennedy, Inspire PR Co-Director

When I started looking for a public relations internship my junior year, I was completely clueless. I had taken PR classes and worked at a newspaper, so I thought it would be easy—all I had to do was send my resume to companies.

After talking to a family friend who worked in public relations, I realized some major flaws in my application process. One year and two internships later, here are some lessons I’ve learned:

• Every company should NOT be treated equally—When I first began applying, I sent the same resume and cover letter to every company. It’s easy to panic about finding an internship and start sending your resume to anyone and everyone. But the best applications are tailored to the company, and clearly demonstrate why you would be a good fit for the specific company.

• Never underestimate the power of personal contacts—As a graduating senior this year, I knew I wanted to work for a public relations agency in Chicago. To begin, I asked all my family and friends if they knew anyone in the industry. Surprisingly, I gained quite a few contacts at PR agencies this way. Reach out to your personal network to start, and you can gain connections and mentors who have experience in your desired career.

Connections on LinkedIn are your connections to a job—LinkedIn is a great job and internship searching tool because you can search for your universities’ alumni at a companies. By finding alum, you instantly have something in common from the start. Focus on companies you would love to work for, and ask alumni why they like working there, and how they got their current job.

Twitter isn’t just for posting what you ate for breakfast—When I first joined Twitter, I didn’t really see the point. Over a year later, I see the benefits of posting and following. Twitter is a great resource during your internship search. Many large companies or agencies will tweet about internship openings or upcoming deadlines. Also follow young professional networks, PRSSA and PRSA Chapters in your area, as they will also share information about internships, as well as career advice. There are many PR themed Twitter accounts that tweet job openings and relevant information and articles. Tweeting professionally is also always good to practice, you never know if the companies you are interviewing with might check your Twitter account.

Follow Colleen on Twitter: @colleenrkennedy

Five Things I Learned About Life from My Internship

 By Emily Messerly, PRSSA member

I recently blogged about my amazing internship in Washington D.C. The skills I gained will surely benefit me in my career, but I had no idea how much the opportunity would benefit me in other aspects of my future. Here are five things I learned that helped turn my internship into a growth experience that helped me find the direction I wanted to take not only my career, but my life.

1)    The Things That Matter to Me-I will never forget sitting outside with my friend, looking out at the nation’s capital, and suddenly realizing what I wanted out of life. I wanted to move to ‘the big city’ when I graduated and start my life there. I knew I wanted to get married someday, but not until later in my life. I realized how important my career was to me, and even if I married a millionaire, I would always want to work. Internships are supposed to help you figure out your career path, but they can also help you realize your long-term goals in life.

2)    Put Things Into Perspective-In college, it can be easy to get preoccupied with petty things, such as drama with your friends, but internships give you your first taste in the real world and can help you to see what counts. I was able to work on projects that contributed to major policy decisions, and in turn, got an opportunity to see the big picture in life.

3)    It’s Never Too Late-When I applied for my internship, my empty resume made me realize I was just going through the motions. I was in no activities, had done no volunteer work, and had spent much of college just getting by. I felt like I was too far into school to get involved in extracurriculars, but one of my coworkers helped me realize that there’s no time like the present. It’s never too late to make a change, especially if it’s a positive one.

4)    The Importance of Seeing the World-D.C. was unlike any place I had ever been before, and it made me realize that there was so much in the world that I wanted to see. If there was only one recommendation I could make, it would be to intern somewhere completely different from where you are now. It can change your view of the world and inspire you to no end.

5)    Don’t Wish Your Life Away-I’m sure we’ve all said at some point how excited we’ll be when we graduate. However, my internship taught me it’s important not to wish your life away, because college goes pretty fast. My internship challenged me not to keep looking at the clock and waiting for the next day to begin. Enjoy what you have today, and don’t count down the hours, be it the next day or the next chapter of your life.


Follow Emily on Twitter! @emilymesserly

DePaul Regional Conference: Entertainment PR

By Colleen Kennedy, Inspire PR Co-Director, PRSSA member

On Feb. 2-3, three Iowa PRSSA members, including myself, attended DePaul University’s Regional Conference, “The Entertainment Industry: It’s Not Just an LA Thing.”

Throughout the two-day event, I learned how the Chicago entertainment industry is thriving, and full of opportunities for young PR professionals. On Feb. 2, the conference kicked off with an agency visit. I traveled to Burson-Marsteller, where I gained valuable insight into the company.

We also learned internship and job search strategies from three interns who were hired after their internship. Their tips included:

  • Focus your efforts—Spend two to three hours researching each company and tailoring your resume and cover letter to their culture.
  • Make your resume a series of results—Use your resume to show measurable achievements and prove that you did something in your internship.
  • Ask smart questions—During an interview, avoid asking stereotypical questions, such as “What’s a typical day?” Instead, try asking questions like “What’s the best part of your day?”
  • Look for a culture you like—It’s important to find a company culture that matches your professional goals and values.

Later, we participated in a Young Professionals Panel. Students had the opportunity to ask questions and hear about the young PR pros experiences in entertainment PR. All three young professionals stressed the importance of working hard and making yourself stand out from the crowd.

On Feb. 3, the day began with keynote speaker Tricia Murphy, Senior Vice President of Matter, Edelman Sports and Entertainment Marketing. Murphy shared her career path and several case studies. One case study, Brita and the Biggest Loser, shows how Edelman utilizes the 360º model. The 360º model helps companies reach their audience through various channels, such as traditional, online and social media, consumer production, on-air content, brand ambassador, sweepstakes and many other options.

Murphy also shared tips for a successful career in PR:

  • Read 360º, don’t focus solely on PR.
  • Wake up to a blog.
  • Think cross-platform.
  • Experiment with video.
  • Network.

The rest of the day was split into three seminar sessions, covering various topics in entertainment PR, such as “PR and Comedy,” “The Art of Entertainment,” “Tourism Entertainment,” “Celebrities and Non-Profits,” and “Luxury Brands and Events.”

The conference concluded with a career fair and the opportunity to network with professionals from Chicago agencies.

One of the great parts of the conference was meeting other PRSSA students. We were able to share our internship experiences, and learn about how other chapters work.

Attending the DePaul PRSSA Regional Conference made me extremely excited to host our Regional Conference event, “PR= People Relations: are you in the conversation?” in April. I’m looking forward to learning more about the trends in the field and connecting with other PRSSA students!

Follow Colleen on Twitter @colleenrkennedy

Five Tips to Have a Successful Internship

By Emily Messerly, PRSSA Member

We’ve all heard about the importance of internships. They are the key to getting your references, building skills, and ultimately landing your first job, but only you determine what you gain from the opportunity. Through my own internship experience, which involved working as a press/legislative intern for Senator Tom Harkin in Washington D.C., I learned five things that will give any intern a successful experience.

1)    Network-How did I get such an incredible internship? I reached out to a family member who has worked for the Senator for almost twenty-five years.Building relationships with your collegues can prove beneficial when you look for a job post-graduation.

2)    Take Initiative-In my internship, some days had a lot of downtime. However, I wasn’t there to sit around, so I went out of my way to get work. There were times when it was menial, but it led to more opportunities. Employers need to see that you’re dependable, and demonstraing that you’re capable of initiative is a huge showing point for them.

3)    Don’t Ever Say ‘I’ll Never Use This’-Did I ever learn this the hard way. One day, I was asked to do a project which involved creating a spreadsheet with working formulas. Um . . .oops. Just that past fall I had taken a class that dealt with spreadsheets, and I didn’t remember a thing because I never thought I would use it. Eventually, I did figure it out, but it’s much easier to benefit from every class, and not just the ones you think are important.

4)    Learn From Experience-Your colleagues are going to be the best sources of information, because they’ve been there and done that. We had the privilege of having lunches with most of the major staff, who would go over their college and career paths. Everyone has a unique story, and you can benefit from everything they experienced.

5)    Go Above and Beyond-Doing only what you’re told simply shows your supervisor you can take direction well. Going above and beyond shows your employer that you’re hard working and can think outside of the box. Companies are always looking for innovative minds. Take every task you’re given as far as you can, even if it’s something small.

Interested in an opportunity to intern for a Senator? Go to http://harkin.senate.gov/students/intern/ for more information.

Follow Emily on Twitter! @emilymesserly

The Truth about Event Planning

By Colleen Kennedy, PRSSA member

“Seriously, it’s all about sales.”

After Brittney Wichtendahl graduated from the University of Iowa with a journalism degree in May 2011, she was determined to leave the state of Iowa. She accepted a full-time assistant sales manager position, and moved to Chicago.

But Wichtendahl quickly realized sales were not her forte. After three months in Chicago, she made a change and accepted a position at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, where she had interned in the summer 2010.

Despite her experience in the world of sales, Wichtendahl stressed the importance of sales to the James F. Fox chapter of PRSSA on the October 26 chapter meeting. In sales, she worked to persuade and convince clients. These skills transfer to public relations and event planning, which involve knowing your client wants and needs.

In her current position as Rental Coordinator, Wichtendahl must sell her experience as an event planner and the venue to potential renters by promoting her expertise and the space as the perfect venue for the event. She plans and coordinates weddings, private events, bridal and baby showers, and helps with public events.

From her work in event planning, Wichtendahl has learned several event truths she shared with the chapter.

Event Truths

  • Your feet will hurt.
  • Make friends with everyone.
  • Put out small fires so you don’t have any big ones.
  • It’s not about you.
  • No event is perfect, but make your client think it is.

Although Wichtendahl said event planning isn’t as glamorous as some people may think, she loves her job.

Wichtendahl also stressed the importance that nothing is a failure if you learn something from it. She struggled with her decision to leave her job in Chicago, but she is happy with her decision.

Since making the decision to return to Des Moines, Wichtendahl has learned an important “life truth”—To be truly successful and happy in life, you must become independent of the opinions of others.

What PRSSA can do for YOU

What PRSSA can do for YOU:

  • Provide networking opportunities
  • Learn new practical PR skills
  • Prepare for your professional career (EX: Work on resumes and cover letters)
  • Listen to professional speakers who practice in the field today
  • Hear about available internships
  • Learn how to be a successful PR practitioner today
  • Hear first hand about the newest and latest trends in PR
  • Offer social media tips and tricks

“PRSSA is a great way to network and meet other students with the same goals,” President Brittany Caplin said.

“The best part of PRSSA is the opportunity to network and the availability of information about how to get a great internship,” Vice President Emily Ferguson said.

Secretary Kathryn Mickelson said she enjoys PRSSA because of the ability it has given her to network and gain real-world experience.

And finally, Public Relations Director Janessa Hageman said, “PRSSA is a great jump-start on finding your passion within all that is PR.”

Our question to YOU is:

  • What do you like about PRSSA?
  • What have you learned from PRSSA?

We’d love your feedback!

Get Noticed

By Anne Petersen, PRSSA member

When Bill Renk graduated from college, he wanted to be an actor. But in an unexpected twist of events, he made a career in public relations instead.

Renk, the Marketing Director of Jumer’s Casino in the Quad Cities, spoke to the James F. Fox chapter of PRSSA on September 28 about the unexpected career turns his life took leading him to his current position, and how to move up the ranks in a company.

His message was clear: Get noticed.

Like many college graduates, Renk began his career with what he called “survival jobs,” entry-level positions in marketing and public relations. He moved to working with local theaters, and was soon noticed by Iowa’s burgeoning casino industry. He took a job with one, traveling to cities like Des Moines working to boost interest in the new business.

Renk continued his career in casinos by becoming the promotions manager at Jumer’s Casino. He was then promoted to Director of Marketing, and although he still felt unprepared for the professional world of marketing and PR, he went for it.

Renk has been the marketing director at Jumer’s Casino now for 17 years.

As he climbed through the ranks, Renk picked up a few pointers for hopeful PR hires and anyone else looking for a job in the dwindling market.

  • Be around. Even if you can’t get the job you want, if you can find another job with the same company, take it. You’ll have a history with the company and later, it might make you stand out against other interviewees.
  • Get noticed. Go the extra mile and step up to get noticed. If you ever interview for a better position, it will help higher employees remember you and the extra work you put in.
  • Be yourself. As Renk put it, “One of your greatest tools is your personality.” Be friendly and outgoing, be memorable and likeable, and it may earn you that promotion that you’ve been looking for.
  • Don’t be desperate. Renk said the old saying is true, “It’s easier to find a job when you’ve got a job.” As a professional who has hired and been hired, Renk said interviewers can often sense the desperation that comes with an unemployed interviewee. And that’s a bad thing. For some reason, Renk said, a company is more likely to hire someone with an “I don’t need this” attitude than someone who seems on the verge of begging.
  • Pay your dues. It’s unlikely anyone will get a great job right out of college in today’s economy. Take the menial jobs that don’t necessarily interest you, and work your way up. And do the tasks with a smile on your face—it might just lead somewhere unexpected.