Now Available: FOCUS Fall 2012

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After an entire semester of writing, editing and designing, PRSSA’s James F. Fox Chapter is ready to release its semiannual newsletter for Fall 2012.  Inside, you will find useful information about the public relations industry, career advice, PR tips and tricks, and much more.

Much of the content that makes up this issue of FOCUS has never been released before.  We hope you will find it entertaining, instructive and captivating.  It has been our pleasure to prepare this issue and help develop the next generation of public relations professionals.

Ricky Brandt, FOCUS Editor

Special Thanks to our FOCUS Writers and Editors:

Erica Sturwold
Mark Hollander
Rachel Hewitt
Regina Volk
Adam Gromotka
Rob Johnson
Kristie Chipera
Alyssa Schaefer

Alexandria Cimino
Megan Yoder
Emily Messerly (Promotions)
Ricky Brandt (FOCUS Editor)
Peyta Eckler (Editor, Advisor)
Barb Kamer (Editor, Advisor)

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

Practical Advice from Monica Madura

At our October 28th Chapter meeting, Monica Madura, the Communication Studies Academic Advisor, came to speak.  Monica geared her presentation towards job searching and how to prepare oneself for the “real world.”  She also offered a valuable question and answer session where members got their most burning questions answered.

Monica suggested that the earlier we start looking for jobs and internships, the better.  Not only can you utilize the Pomerantz Career Center’s Employment Expo and Career Shift, but look on the Communication Studies webpage and utilize your network.  Some ways to get your network started can range from attending Chamber of Commerce events to talking with your professors here at the University of Iowa.

Once you find a job or internship that you are interested in, Monica talked about the importance of customizing our resumes and cover letters for the specific position.  It’s a great idea to make a “master resume” where you list everything you have done.  Then once you look at the job description or requirements you can cut and paste on a new document what is most relevant to that job.

The take away message from our speaker was to start job-hunting early, customize your resume, and utilize the resources we have at our fingertips here at the University!

By Shannon Kane

A Word from the Wise…Gloria Hurtado

Are you really proficient?

We’ve all done it. Put something on our resume that perhaps we thought we were proficient in until, well, our first public relations position. Suddenly someone is asking you to pull a screen grab into a PowerPoint and convert it into a jpeg. And oh, then you need to recreate some graphs in Excel and don’t forget to format them just how the client likes it. It should only take you an hour.

You stare at your monitor and suddenly, you realize, ‘maybe I’m not that proficient afterall.’

In my first month interning in the digital practice of a public relations agency, I realized that although I can find my way around a simple PowerPoint or Excel, I did not know these programs to their fullest capabilities and it affected my work.

In public relations you’ll use both programs daily. Because every minute is billed to a client, spending time fiddling around in programs you don’t know well is a problem. When you can’t figure out how to create something, you’re costing the client money.

The best way to prepare yourself is to figure out what you’re not really proficient at now. For example, have you ever seen someone format a word document in such a way that you thought, ‘how did they do that?’ Start making a list of simple formatting issues, tabs you don’t know the use of or things you may have seen in others’ work that you don’t know how to create yourself.

Once you know what you need to work on, here are some ways to make sure you’re proficient.

  • Play around. Spend time on the program you’re not too familiar with, opening tabs you don’t use and reading through the help sections. Microsoft 2007 is not the same as 2003, so if you’re stubborn like I was, it’s time to start using updated software.
  • Ask a friend. I’m a huge fan of asking others for help at work. Every time I receive a document someone else created, I don’t hesitate to ask them questions. You should also share the wealth. I’ve shown someone in upper management how to format bullets before, so don’t feel apprehensive about learning from each other.
  • Take a class. The University of Iowa offers a computer literacy class that covers all Microsoft Office programs and a few extras. As important as your proficiency is to your future career, consider setting aside a few semester hours for a course like this.

Lastly, don’t feel like you need to be an expert. No one expects you to know everything when you first start out, but employers will expect you to be proactive and reach out to others when you don’t know something. So, if you ever need help with that pesky bullet alignment, you know how to reach me!

Written by Gloria Hurtado

Former Vice President

‘Freezin’ for a Reason!’ Special Olympics Polar Plunge

On Saturday, March 28, the University of Iowa PRSSA firm participated in the Special Olympics Polar Plunge.  The tagline, “freezin’ for a reason!” rang true: it was cold.  The last few weeks of March had been surprisingly warm for Iowa standards, yet the one day we decided to jump in the Coralville lake, it was snowy and cold.  Despite my disdain for cold weather, I can say we all had a great time.  Our team costume theme was 80’s and special kudos to Sarah Washler, Allie Howarth and Paul Spooner who demonstrated the most team spirit!


From top left: Allie Howarth, Stephanie Block, Sarah Washler, Paul Spooner, Megan McIntyre, Caroline Jones, Natalie Dubs, Natalie's roommate

PRSSA is proud to have helped Special Olympics Iowa raise more than $33,000 in donations that went to help fund the Special Olympics competition in Iowa City.  This is an event I hope our Firm continues to remain actively involved with.

— Caroline Jones

Internship Spotlight: University News Services

by Caroline Jones 

Are you looking for an internship or another way to gain more writing experience? If so, the University News Services internship is the perfect opportunity to get a solid start to a career in public relations.

The University News Services (UNS) office is located at 300 Plaza Centre One in downtown Iowa City. The internship lasts one semester, or you may work there during the summer months if you will be living in Iowa City.

Responsibilities include but are not limited to: interviewing media contacts and writing press releases and news stories for various University publications, identifying relevant University of Iowa stories and pitching them to local, regional, national and international media outlets, archiving news stories and assisting in various administrative tasks.

As a student you may be thinking, “What’s in it for me?” Or “How will I benefit from this experience?”

“From the UNS internship, I was able to hone my AP and press release writing expertise–two basic but essential skills for a PR professional,” said Jennifer Ferm, former PRSSA president and recent UI graduate.

By the end of the semester your portfolio will be full with writing samples you will be proud to submit to an employer.

“During my Golin Harris internship, my account team really trusted my writing skills and therefore gave me assignments above the intern level writing materials on behalf of the client,” said Ferm. “I cannot say definitively if Golin Harris would’ve hired me without my strong proficiency in writing that I perfected at UNS. I’m forever grateful for the experience.”

On top of that, the staff members at the University News Services office are friendly and willing to help you in any way possible.

Lois Gray, the assistant director/editor for UNS, is quite possibly the kindest woman you could ever work for. No matter how busy her day is, she is never too busy to listen or help you with anything you need.

“Once I met Lois and started my internship at UNS, I was much more productive under someone who was so genuine, helpful and upbeat,” said Gloria Hurtado, PRSSA vice president after her internship in spring 2008. “As an intern, it’s easy to feel intimidated taking on tasks that require skills still under development, but she took the time to help with every step of the process. I’m greatly appreciative of her mentorship.”

Gray assists with writing and editing news releases and the entire UI News Digest, provides media support to the UI College of Education, International Programs as well as to a number of other areas on campus, including Women’s Resource and Action Center, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, Honors Program, Registrar’s Office, UI Center for Human Rights and much more. She updates news headlines on the UI Homepage, serves as managing editor for the UNS web site and is the assistant editor for UI faculty and staff newsletter, fyi. Aside from that, she oversees the internship program and recently coordinated the video production internship.

A native of New Hampton, IA, Gray received her bachelor of arts in journalism from Grand View College in Des Moines and obtained her master’s degree in journalism from the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication. After a decade of working in daily and weekly journalism, she realized she wanted to work in higher education media relations, combining her experience from studying abroad and her love for higher education.

“Some of the best moments in my current position with University News Services, University Relations, is when we know we’ve helped educate the public about really significant research or when we’ve really made a difference in people’s lives through an outreach event or big news,” said Gray.

“A recent example was during the Flood of 2008, we were able to work with this natural disaster and help educate people on campus as well as work with members of the media – locally, regionally and nationally – as well as alumni, friends, students, faculty and staff and members of the general public – through a Flood Blog, press conferences, press releases and other communications vehicles. It was an opportunity to show the resilience of our campus and how teaching, research and service continue despite the obstacles.”

The experiences of an internship with UNS will vary from each semester.

As we have mentioned before, you never know when a crisis will hit.  As an employee of any organization, you must be prepared to face new challenges and demonstrate your willingness to accept more responsibility.

PRSSA Public Relations Director Aly Dolan provides a first-hand account of crisis communication.

“When the flood hit, my boss’ had their hands full with crisis communication,” said Dolan after interning with UNS last summer. “Fortunately, a lot of press releases and stories that were originally assigned to higher positions were passed along to me. It definitely improved my writing.”

Perhaps most importantly, PRSSA has built a positive relationship with the University News Services office, one that will be your responsibility to uphold and build upon in the future. As a member of PRSSA, you already have an advantage when applying for this position. UNS has been an invaluable resource to our chapter and we hope to continue to send our talented members to work there.


Feeding the media machine during the Virginia Tech crisis

I can remember the fear and terror I felt as a college student when I first heard of the Virginia Tech massacre.  It is a sad reality that I was used to hearing about high school shootings, and nearly every school established a lockdown protocol to handle those situations as they arise. 

Virginia Tech was widely criticized for failing to notify students and faculty immediately after the first incident had occured.  The shooting issue had grown legs, now college campuses had to have a response plan so that students and faculty would be safe if such a crisis occured at their school.

In the midst of finger-pointing and the “blame game,” Jeffrey Douglas kept his composure and utilized effective communication after the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus last April.  Douglas disclosed the logistics of handling a “tragedy of monumental proportions” to a large crowd at the PRSSA National Conference 2008 in Detroit on Saturday, Oct. 25.  On April 16, 2007, the media frenzy included over 1,000 reporters, 150 satelite trucks and 150,000 web hits per hour on the school’s homepage.

He shared with the audience the three phases of crisis communications: managing the emergency, stabilizing the wounded and resurrection.  They had to instill confidence that the university was in control of the situation, while making the care and concern of the victims and family priority one. 

His advice for those who will be in similar situations is to communicate as soon as you can.  Because of the Virginia Tech massacre we now have HawkAlert at the University of Iowa, which sends text messages and makes automated phone calls when there is an emergency on campus.

A year and a half later, Virginia Tech is focusing on recovery and rebuilding a stronger community.

Stay tuned for more posts about the PRSSA National Conference 2008!


Driven to Distinction- UI PRSSA makes a lasting impression in Detroit

Greetings from the 2008 PRSSA National Conference in Detroit!

We stepped off the plane yesterday but we have already gained a tremendous amount of insight into the field of public relations. The Renaissance Center is a beautiful venue and the atmosphere is contagiously exciting-in the words of Mike Cherenson, Chair Elect of PRSA, “everyone is drinking the kool-aid.”

It has been hard deciding on what workshops to sit in on because they all sound great! So far, we have attended presentations about crisis communication, pitching like pros, global communication, branding, fundraising, how to succeed in the office without really trying, and how to make the most of our resources.

This morning, we attended keynotes by Ofield Duke, fellow PRSA and the “god mother of PRSSA,” Betsy Plank. We couldn’t believe our eyes when Betsy Plank took the podium. As members of PRSSA, we felt privileged to be in the same room as the founder of our beloved organization. After the chapter roll call, we were lucky enough to catch her in between the PRSA conference and luncheon. It was an honor to shake the hand of the woman that made it all possible. 

It has been wonderful meeting members from other chapters, including the University of Georgia, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of Southern Georgia, and our fellow Iowans at the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State.

Stay posted for more updates from the National Conference! 

PRSSA Love —Tegan

Improve your writing skills

Sharp Writing: Build Better Writing Skills/ Kaplan Publishing (you can find it at Iowa Book)

This is a really good reference book for those who need to brush up or re-learn writing skills for all formats/types of writing.

The first step of the book is their Building Block Quiz which determines what you know. Step 2 involves lessons where you review your old skills and learn new ones. Building Block 3 puts the new skills to the test. The end of each chapter has a test to assess your knowledge.

The book is divided into sections like Structure, Syntax, Diction, Clarity, Tone, Usage, etc. It also goes through the writing stages: prewriting, writing, revising,editing and proofreading.

Most importantly it discusses resumes, cover letters, proposals, memos, and business letters.

Many PR internships and jobs require a writing test and this book provides great practice so if you need to brush up on your skills, check it out.

PRSSA Nonperishable Food Donation Drive Oct. 15

PRSSA will host a Nonperishable Food Donation Drive Wednesday, Oct. 15 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Kautz Plaza (right outside the Pappajohn Business Building).  All items collected will be donated to the Johnson County Crisis Center in Iowa City. 

The top 10 suggested donations to food bank include:

  1. Canned fruit
  2. Canned vegetables
  3. Canned meat
  4. Peanut butter
  5. Juice
  6. Baby formula
  7. Small diapers
  8. Baby food (all stages)
  9. Pasta
  10. Paper products

Contact Gloria Hurtado with questions, or to sign-up as a volunteer.  Hope to see you there!