Passport to PR Takeaways


By: Cailyn McCutcheon, Strategic Planning Committee Member

This past weekend Penn State’s chapter of PRSSA hosted the regional conference, Passport to PR. The conference included a pitch competition, a keynote speaker, and six breakout sessions with speakers. As a first time attendant to a PRSSA Regional Conference, this weekend was such a positive learning experience for me. I walked away with a broadened sense of knowledge about the field of PR and a better understanding of what I would like to pursue in a career.    

The first breakout session was a choice between Google Agency Account Strategist, Rebecca Shapiro and GPSImpact Digital Strategist, Zainab Javed. I decided to hear Rebecca Shapiro speak as she was representing the technology powerhouse Google and she is a recent Penn State grad.. Standing before me, Rebecca presented herself with an air of confidence I hope to achieve by the time I graduate. I was astonished that this was the 2015 graduate I read about online. Rebecca had many great moments and an especially inspiring discussion of her career path and role at Google. The following are two of the most impactful quotes from her session:

“The only constant is change — use your interests as a guide.”

Shapiro mentioned this early in her session and I find it to be the most influential quote from the entirety of her breakout. Graduating with a Public Relations major and minors in Psychology and Business, Shapiro talked of her love of technology and social media and how these interests guided her towards an internship with Verizon Wireless in New Jersey. But come graduation, Shapiro was packing her bags to move across the country and work at Google’s Mountain View, CA office. Don’t be afraid to let your interests pull you out of your comfort zone. Keep up with that industry that interests you and follow the trends. These were a few of my favorite pieces of advice she shared with her audience.

“A career made is not of what you’re good at.”

Shapiro wove themes of stepping out of your comfort zone throughout her presentation. She commented that no successful career is made of simply what you are good at. She empathized that to grow as a professional, take on a role that scares and learn it well. Become a stronger writer, seek the guidance of other professionals when you need it and take on a 360 degree role in the media. Shapiro mentioned all of these as tidbits of advice to a student preparing for their future career decisions.

In breakout session two, I chose to see Zach Dugan, a media specialist from Ketchum, speak over Erica Walsh, a client staff assistant at Burson-Marsteller. Again, the decision was difficult as both graduated from Penn State, but ultimately, I wanted to learn more about Zach’s role as a media specialist. Zach began his presentation by emphasizing that the route to his current career was more traditional with his work at Hunter Public Relations and SHIFT Communications prior to his position at Ketchum. Here’s what I learned from Zach:

Writing A Pitch: Facts First, Keep It Short, Go To Their Specific Vertical

Zach circled back to this idea throughout his presentation. I enjoyed his presentation because he gave his advice on how to successfully work in the world of PR as well as land a dream job. He described the working relationships he has with many reporters and emphasized that these relationships are rooted in their mutual trust. Zach continued his presentation by stating that to be in the editorial world you need to pitch the editorial world, and this is why mastering the pitch is most critical to anyone in the field of Public Relations. The best career advice I gathered from his presentation was that during that interview, it’s not just about why you want to work at the company — it’s about how you can make their company better.

In the last breakout session, I chose to see Ellyn Fisher because I hope to pursue a career in nonprofit one day.. Ellyn’s road to her position as PR and Social Media for AdCouncil was somewhat untraditional as she spent some of her early career working in journalism. Eventually, she found AdCouncil and has worked on some of its most notable campaigns like “Love Has No Labels.” I took away two major lessons from Ellyn’s breakout session.

“You’re only as good as your launch plan is.”

Ellyn spent much of her presentation discussing the launch plan for the campaign “Love Has No Labels.” By using digital media, she and her team were able to bring creative light to the campaign. I enjoyed Ellyn’s presentation because she paired clips of the campaign with personal anecdotes of how the campaign was created and why. Ellyn concluded her discussion of the campaign by talking about how it won an Emmy for Outstanding Commercial and that emphasized that such commitment to a cause and hard work does not go unnoticed.

“Apathy is lethal.”  

Ellyn said this when talking about the effects of the campaign and this was my favorite quote of the day. With hopes to work for a non-profit in the future, I found this quote to be a perfect sum up for why the work of nonprofit campaigns is so influential. Ellyn continued by explaining that if you want people to do something, to change their behavior, to act, you have to first make them feel.  Ellyn’s presentation was heartfelt and inspiring and unquestionably my favorite from the day.

Thank you Passport To PR for a greatly insightful weekend.

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