One Monday morning, I got an email.
It was from the director of UA PRSSA’s publications committee, Drew Pendleton. He was asking if anyone wanted to write a blog about CreateAthon — a 24-hour event where agencies do pro bono work for nonprofit clients — coming up on the following Friday.
For the past few weeks, I had been wondering if I needed to be more involved within PRSSA. So I emailed him back.
“I would love to take a stab at it!” I wrote.
At this point, I had the expectation that I would be there at the beginning, maybe the middle and definitely at the end of the 24-hour period. I would get the info I needed and go home. Easy.
Fast forward to the next Tuesday night at a Capstone Agency PR department meeting. One of my fellow members pleaded desperately for one of us to take her spot at the CreateAthon, as she was no longer able to attend.
Feeling for her, I said that I might be able to. One thing led to another, and I was signed up to participate in the CreateAthon in three days.
Well, alright, I thought. This is happening.
On Wednesday, I got another email: “CreateAthon Kickoff — Are You Ready?!
Mm, not exactly. I mean, I was ready to dive into the unknown, and I was definitely excited. But was I fully prepared for what those 24 hours might bring? Not so much.
Fast forward again to Friday at noon. I was sitting in a classroom in Reese Phifer, eating Chick-fil-A nuggets and looking around the room. It was filled with the best of the best of our agency, of PRSSA and of the college as a whole.
What was I doing there?? I was way over my head! I haven’t done anything of this caliber before. I just write the blogs...
Anyways, I get to meet my team, and it turns out I already knew two of them — Colleen Dolan and Drew Pendleton himself. Along with our other teammates, Alexa Campbell and Katie Huff, we sat down and got to work.
But it didn’t exactly feel like work.
It was a ton of fun! Our client was the Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter, so all we did was talk about cats and dogs. (I do that most of the time, anyways.)
The goal was to get pet owners to spay and neuter their dogs and/or cats. Awkward topic. But here’s the real kicker: We didn’t focus on digital media. I know, that’s unheard of! But our client’s target audience was the more rural part of Tuscaloosa County. In these areas, there’s not nearly as much connection to the digital side of promotion. So we had to go back to the basics, back in time, to traditional print media.
It was really neat to be able to take this simple task and make it more creative. Our brainstorming process was filled with “what ifs” and “oh mys” and way too many references to our own dogs and cats. Scratch that … there can never be too many.
There was a whole lot of laughter and way more smiles than I expected. I liked these people. Our group dynamic was powerful, and the shelter’s cause was so important. Did you know that two dogs that aren’t “fixed” can turn into thousands in just five years?? I didn’t.
But both the people I was with and the cause we were working for pushed us forward the whole way. After a visit from our client and their two dogs (<3), hours of work and a lot of coffee, we came up with our final product: “The Ruff Truth: A Tuscaloosa County Tail.”
Our campaign relied on targeting places where people cannot avoid going to — gas stations, supermarkets, schools, post offices, etc. We suggested strategically placing fliers and handouts on bulletin boards and in shoppers’ grocery bags at checkout.
It was textbook guerrilla marketing: Have a targeted message for middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students and the greater adult community. Make it so that a parent who makes most of the familial decisions sees the message everywhere. The expected result is that the parent will ultimately take the family pets to get spayed or neutered.
The campaign received very good feedback from our clients. They said that it was exactly what they needed. Katie had made several different graphics for our client (she’s a rockstar), and they said that they were going to use one of the fliers for when they visited a middle school the following week.
Wow. I just helped develop a full campaign in 24 hours. And the client loved it.
Maybe I shouldn’t have limited myself based on who I saw around me. I was capable simply because of the support of those very same people. I learned a lot from them, and I learned a lot about what I can actually do.
The CreateAthon gave me valuable relationships (both old and new), developed my skills and allowed me to participate in charity work that was worthwhile. I had no idea just how much more confident I would be as a public relations professional, and as a contributor to the community.
Earlier that morning on a coffee run, we came across a half-marathon taking place on Bryant Drive. That’s a lot like what CreateAthon felt like — it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you go into it with an excited attitude and surround yourself with good running mates, you can make it through to the finish line. (The finish line being my pillow.)
By Hope Todd
As PR professionals, we’ve all been on communications teams that run like well-oiled machines. You expect everyone on your team to answer emails within 24 hours, if not within 24 minutes. You host meetings to plan meetings, and then have meetings to talk about meetings that just occurred. Your calendars are synchronized, your social media notifications are turned on, and your team is ready to rock ‘n’ roll with any project that comes at you.
Sadly, this is a dream scenario that rarely exists outside of the communications world. When you must dive into a corporation or nonprofit organization, whether working in-house or through an agency, the crystal-clear communication you used to enjoy gets muddied. Facilitating communication with people who are not communications professionals is a daunting but unavoidable task that every PR professional must face. Here are five tips that will help bridge the gap between professional communicators and professionals in other disciplines.
By Bethany Corne, Vice-President of Finance
Anyone who reads the news, or at least subscribes to The Daily Skimm, will remember the August 2016 media storm surrounding Mylan Pharmaceuticals, the producer of the EpiPen. EpiPens – for those lucky individuals who don’t have a life threatening allergy – are travel-sized shots of epinephrine, or liquid adrenaline, that prevent an individual suffering from an allergic reaction from going into anaphylactic shock. Basically, an EpiPen is both a miracle drug and a necessity for anyone with a life-threatening allergy.
In my case, I’m deathly allergic to peanuts, and I always have been. I was that annoying kid in elementary school who kept you from having Reese’s Peanut Butter cups at the class holiday party and who was asked to sit at a separate table at lunch (I politely declined). Luckily, my parents have health insurance and, like clockwork, with every yearly check-up I received a new EpiPen prescription at a relatively inexpensive price. My allergy was always a minor inconvenience that I never gave much thought to, simply because I was fortunate enough to afford medicine if and when I needed it.
So why, in August of 2016, were allergy shots suddenly all over the news? Mylan, the sole producer of the EpiPen, experienced a barrage of negative publicity after raising the baseline price of a single EpiPen to $600, the final installment in an overall 400 percent price increase in the past six years alone, according to forbes.com.
After this announcement, public figures (think celebrities and senators) and the public in general took to social media to voice strong, negative opinions about the seemingly unfair pricing of a drug a significant amount of the population needs to survive. Many suggested the ludicrous pricing point was manipulative, because Mylan doesn’t actually even make epinephrine, the life-saving miracle drug in the shots. Instead, it produces the small, inexpensive ejector pen that releases the medicine into the body.
How did Mylan handle this PR crisis? For those with serious allergies and no health insurance, the 2016 Mylan price increase was the final straw. Under pressure from Congress to lower prices, Mylan attempted to remedy the uproar by offering financial assistance for those who would struggle to pay for EpiPens at market price.
Critics weren’t satisfied and saw through this PR defensive maneuver as merely a cover-up, instead of an actual solution. Finally, Mylan announced that it would lower the price of the general EpiPen to $300, cutting the original price in half and, in doing so, accepted responsibility for its previous possibly immoral actions. Mylan CEO Heather Bresch received much of the heat online, and took to the media to defend both Mylan and her own actions. She attempted change the narrative surrounding healthcare prices, citing middlemen and high priced insurance plans as contributors to increasing drug problems.
Finally, what does the EpiPen controversy tell us about handling a PR crisis? First, the debacle reminds us, as public relations practitioners, to stay up to date and conscious of the public’s opinion and needs. If Mylan had been more aware and concerned with dissenting public opinions surrounding its company, it could have taken preemptive measures and avoided the entire catastrophe. Secondly, Mylan could have evaluated the negative feedback immediately following the pricing announcement and taken curative action instead of offering a semi-apology and semi-solution.
I am thankful that Mylan manufactures a product that quite literally is “a life saver” and has saved my life on multiple occasions. I am thankful that my family has health insurance, and that regardless of bogus inflation rates, I can afford EpiPens. But what if we couldn’t? What if I had to pay $600 for one single pen every year? EpiPens expire and get lost.
For these reasons, I’m thankful for the power of social media and public relations. I’m thankful that these platforms can and do drive social change, and I’m thankful that every person who needs an EpiPen will one day be able to afford it.
By Kirby Tifverman, General PRSSA Member
As you sit in your first class of your junior or senior year, you begin making small talk with those around you. You ask each other the basic questions:
“How are you?”
“What’s your major?”
“What classes are you taking?”
But then you get hit with a question that stops you in your tracks.
“What campus organizations are you involved with?”
With a startled look, you reply, “Well, I did some stuff with PRSSA last year, and I go to small group at my church when I can.”
Your classmate proceeds to discuss all of the activities he or she is involved with — not just PRSSA, but AdFed, Capstone Agency, Capstone Men and Women, Greek life and UADM — as well as taking 18 credit hours and serving as a small group leader at his or her church with time to volunteer at the food bank on weekends.
You get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. How can someone do this? Why am I not doing this?
You start to wonder if what you’re doing is good enough to land yourself a job. Even more troubling, you start to wonder if what you’re doing is good enough to get yourself into one of these organizations.
What do you do?
Do what’s best for you.
First of all, breathe.
It can be easy to freak out in this situation and start questioning everything you’ve done in the past two or three years.
What you should know is that what this person is doing is great, but it might not be for you. At least for now, it is not your path.
The important thing is to realize that whatever you have done in the past is preparing you for your future. You have developed skills that maybe you haven’t honed in on yet.
So, rest in the fact that things are going to be ok. The world will not end because you haven’t participated in every campus organization.
Make a decision.
Then, decide on what you want to do to change your situation. Take some initiatives. They can be big steps; they can be small steps. But have a goal in mind.
If you want to be more specific in your field, such as working in nonprofit PR, then join organizations and committees that will help you get there. If you want a more general route, do some research on what would most benefit you no matter which way you go. In all cases, the SOURCE and your adviser are some great ways to start your search.
Most of all, get to know yourself. If you know that keeping yourself busy with certain organizations will help reach your goal, then go for some big steps. If you know that having too much pressure from too many responsibilities will harm you more than help you, then by all means, make sure you don’t overload yourself.
At any rate, learn how to say “no.” Some things aren’t worth your sanity or time. Know what’s good for you.
Go for it.
It may feel overwhelming at first, but once you have a goal in mind and take steps to reach it, the search for organizations on campus will become light. Opportunities will pop up if you keep your eyes open.
Joining campus organizations is a valuable part of your college career. You learn important lessons there that you wouldn’t learn in the classroom.
But don’t let someone scare you into thinking that what you’re doing is not enough. The truth is, you are enough. You are awesome. Never let someone else make a decision for you.
Embrace your awesomeness by knowing that your past is preparing you for your future. Take that first step into your future and join an organization that is best for you.
It may seem overwhelming or scary, but do it anyway. That’s what awesome people like you are born to do.
By Hope Todd, PRSSA General Member
You check the clock. 6:28 p.m. Two minutes before you absolutely must leave work in order to meet your friends for dinner. You can’t be late and disappoint them—again. Furiously typing, you finish what seems like your 100th press release of the day, hit send and rush out the door. You’re driving with one hand and trying to re-apply mascara with the other when your mom calls. You haven’t talked to her in forever, but once you try to pick up you’re interrupted by an email saying your press release was never received. The boss is mad—real mad. Stressed out yet?
You should be. The life of a young professional is a hectic schedule of work, play and trying to figure out just what the heck you’re doing. Every young professional will go through the struggle of finding a work-life balance at some point, and everyone will experience it differently. Here are four tips from young professionals and The University of Alabama alumnae Siarra Swalve, Meg Burton and Savannah Bass on how to navigate your journey into your career and successful “adulting”.
1) Make time for what is important.
Time is precious in your jam-packed schedule, so make the most of it. Think about what really matters to you in life—your family, friends, pets, hobbies and more. Then set aside time specifically for those things that work will not invade. When you prioritize a person or thing, it shows how much you care.
2) Schedule “you-time”.
Go for a run. Watch a movie. Treat yourself to ice cream. Read a book. Whatever it is, do something that makes you happy every day. Even five minutes of relaxing and listening to music can be enough to sooth the most stressed-out psyche.
3) Understand that your life and career will change like the seasons.
This is a big one. Sometimes, your career will feel like it’s dominating your life. That is natural. Just like seasons in nature, career stress will come and go as you strive for new goals and then settle into your positions. A work-first mentality will be necessary at times to help you achieve your goals. At other times, you’ll be able to ride the wave of a solid work schedule and find more time to focus on your personal life.
4) Remember that no one actually has it together.
It’s almost a guarantee that even your highest boss feels like his or her life is held together by Elmer’s glue at some points. Public relations is a stressful industry to enter, no matter what position you find yourself in. The best thing to remember is that you can find support from your co-workers, and in return you can support them. As young public relations professionals we are all in this together, one caffeine-binging late night at the office at a time.
How are you going to ensure that you find time to relax during the first years of your career?
-by Bethany Corne, UA PRSSA Publications Committee Leader
Bethany Corne is the publications committee leader for The University of Alabama PRSSA and a digital strategist at Capstone Agency. Connect with her on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter @BethanyyyC14 or email her firstname.lastname@example.org.
All blogs are written by general members of UAPRSSA and Capstone Agency.