Guest Speaker: Stephanie Shirley

By: Cailyn McCutcheon, Strategic Planning Chair

The first speaker of the fall semester featured business owner Stephanie Shirley, a Penn State alumnae and public relations consultant. In her presentation, Shirley emphasized her main point that not all careers in public relations are cookie-cutter; she is forging her own path with her own startup public relations consulting firm, Bennis Public Relations, based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

From the presentation’s initial ideas, Shirley told club members that her goal of the evening was to inspire us with an alternate career path other than the agency side of the industry. Shirley graduated from Penn State with a degree in public relations in December of 2009. She was first hired on the campaign strategy for the former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. Her main campaign focus was gathering support from coalitions in the area.

At first, Shirley thought she wanted a career in politics. After the campaign, she moved to Washington D.C. to work for the Department of Health. But soon after, she realized it was not what she wanted to do with her life. She put in her two weeks notice and immediately started working on her own small business idea: a public relations consulting firm.

Shirley had done some work with consulting in college. One example she gave to the room was when she was an intern for the program P.A.C.E. with Penn State engineering, a speaker named Brent Darnell, spoke on the topic of emotional intelligence in engineering at a conference planned by Shirley. After his presentation, Darnell approached Shirley and asked if she would consider doing some public relations consulting for his business. Shirley agreed and worked on his communications strategy for three years. At that moment, Shirley urged audience members to be more confident in their own abilities.

Shirley has created the job she wants. Currently, she has 17 active clients and has had 29 clients over the past year. Her clients include the Kidney Cancer Association, intermediate school districts in western Pennsylvania, law firms, state senators in Pennsylvania, and others. Each client has unique communication needs that might include website content creation, crisis communication, or social media strategy development. Shirley is her own boss; she doesn’t have employees. She has vendors in her local area that assist her. Shirley urged audience members that working a career such as this requires much discipline on her part. She is committed to the growth of her business and remains diligent in its expansion. She stressed that her job is a roller coaster but for that reason, it keeps the passion alive.

Shirley concluded her presentation by answering some questions from the audience. Club members were eager to learn how she has benefited from her public relations degree at Penn State. She told club members to take advantage of the relationships built in PRSSA and at Penn State because you can find a Penn Stater just about anywhere. It’s the relationships you build in this field that will make it possible to have a career as successful as Shirley’s.

Thank you Stephanie Shirley for speaking to us!

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