Insights from the 2015 PRSSA National Conference

By Heather Ebert and Raeven Henry
12193449_10153566382231747_7033045425867191354_nThanks to the support of RLF and others, we had the opportunity to attend the PRSSA National Conference in Atlanta this November. We joined other members of our chapter, Carolina PRSSA, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This was the first time that our chapter was represented at the national conference, and we hope to send more members in the years to come.
At the conference we engaged with PR professionals on a myriad of topics – from media training to experiential marketing. But what seemed to really hit home for us were the discussions about personal and professional development. As we sat in on several educational and professional sessions, we noticed two consistent themes: be open to opportunities and network with a purpose.

Be open to opportunities
As college seniors, we think that the decisions we make leading up to and right after graduation will set the tone for our future. We also fret that one wrong decision could, in fact, cost us our future.
At the conference, successful PR professionals revealed that they did not start their careers with their dream job, or even a job in the field that they ultimately ended up in. Some knew what they wanted to do early on and some did not. These PR pros conveyed the idea that our starting point does not have to be, and often is not, our ending point.
People today work their way up, make lateral moves to explore other roles, and change career paths more than ever. On top of that, we operate in a profession that embraces and celebrates opportunity and change, so as budding PR professionals, we have to do the same. The decision to do an internship not directly related to our dream job, or to take a job after graduation that is not in the industry we desire, is quite the norm and quite okay.
This doesn’t take away from the fact that making career decisions are important. It doesn’t mean that we should take the first opportunity we are offered. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be strategic when choosing our first job or internship. Rather, it means we should realize that what may not seem like a great opportunity at first could be the opportunity we need to get to the next level of our careers.
So, we should explore the opportunities presented before us, and seek out the ones that are not always apparent. But most importantly, we shouldn’t get caught up in just one decision out of the thousands that we will make in our careers.
Network with a purpose
As PR students studying at one of the best journalism schools in the nation, we are continuously told about the importance of networking. Our professors and career advisors always remind us that the right connection can go a long way. We know that we have to make a connection and follow-up, but we aren’t shown what that really looks like. At the PRSSA conference, we were introduced to more in-depth angles of networking. Below are a few takeaways:

  1. Find a genuine connection. Let’s face it – sometimes networking can be a bit awkward. However, nothing is more comforting than finding a genuine, relatable connection with another person. Find topics on LinkedIn or within the person’s conversation that are related to your own personal history, interests or network. Speaking in-depth about something you two have in common can lead to discussions on other topics, and, most importantly, makes you memorable.
  2. Ask for advice, not a job. Continuing the thought of being genuine, speak about more than just career opportunities. Do not make it seem like your only motive is finding a job. Show a genuine interest in their lives, and the lessons they have come to learn along the way. Ask: What led you down this career path? How did you find a way for your passions and career to align? What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
  3. Offer something of value in return. Make the relationship a two-way street by offering something of value in return. If you find an article related to their work or something you spoke with them about, feel free to share it with them to show that you thought of them. If you see an event they are planning or hosting, offer to volunteer.
  4. Make sure to follow up! Once you make that initial connection, make sure to keep the conversation going and build upon the relationship. Follow up with them to see how they’re doing, or share what you’re up to.