Stephanie Heckman

Hope to work in public relations? Prepare now!

In Branding, Career, College, Journalism, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media on April 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm

How to prepare for a career in media or PR while still at college

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Still in college? Fear not! This is the best time to focus on your career.

1. Choose the right major

Considering majoring in journalism, broadcast journalism or a writing-intensive public relations, communications, mass media, advertising or business communication. Some mass media or communications programs require no or few writing courses. If this is the case, back up your major with writing-intensive elective or minor courses. I chose a major in strategic communication, with elective courses in journalism and creative writing.

While many publicists started with a major in English or other liberal arts subject, this will not prepare you for specific PR job skills. It will teach you critical thinking and essay writing skills; however, you should be focusing on learning journalistic writing and marketing techniques.

If you choose to major in English or a similar subject, make sure to also work for the student newspaper, write freelance articles and learn business and technical skills. If you attend a larger university, I highly recommend choosing one of the more journalistic majors alongside other courses in business, marketing, public relations techniques and communication theories.

2. Select a complementary minor

Everyone should make time for a minor or even second major before graduation but choosing the right minor is tricky. Every hopeful journalist, publicist or marketer should take courses in technical skills such as multimedia journalism, audio and video editing, graphic design, digital photography and Photoshop. If your college has a program in a relevant technical subject, consider adding a minor or at least taking enough elective courses to become proficient.



I chose a critical theory-based, liberal-artsy type minor because I enjoy working for nonprofit organizations and social justice causes. If this sounds like you, consider minoring in a subject related to the type of nonprofit organization you hope to work for. Examples include environmental studies, public health, women’s studies or political science. If you would prefer a corporate or agency environment, you could major in business, economics, finance or marketing.

I think it’s perfectly fine, even advantageous, to add a minor or second major in any subject that interests you, as long as you choose a core major that will give you the skills you need to succeed. If you enjoy a subject, you will do better and learn more than you will in a subject that seems more career-intensive but causes boredom, frustration or poor grades.

3. Get involved!

Join the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) if you are a current student. Your school likely has a chapter and will allow you attend meetings, if you can’t pay to become a member. If you are a recent graduate or soon-to-be graduate, join the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Consider joining other student or professional groups related to journalism, marketing or advertising.

Write, write, write! Join your school’s newspaper or magazine as a reporter or editor. One of the best things I did during college was to become a student reporter. It taught me how to come up with story ideas, decide what was a marketable story, track down potential interviewees, conduct interviews and write effectively in AP style.

But I don’t want to become a journalist, you say? I’m sorry to break the news, but to work in public relations, you must be an effective writer, reporter and editor. Public relations requires knowledge of AP style and the fundamentals of journalism, the ability to write news and feature stories and an awareness of how editors think. You must be able to pitch your own stories to the media and this means that you need to know how to think like an editor. The important aspect is that you get experience now.

Furthermore, get involved from your own computer. Create an online presence by starting a LinkedIn profile and a professional Twitter account. Learn to effectively use many social media websites, as social media skills is an important skill in this industry. Delete inappropriate photos and content from Facebook and Twitter pages. Employees do Google you and they don’t need a photo of you passed out drunk in a puddle of tequila.

4. Find an internship — better yet, do several of them.

During university, I’ve had four internships. Is this excessive? I don’t think so. Each one taught me more about what I wanted out of a career. Did I want to work for a tiny office or a huge organization?Do I prefer a well established one with a century-long history and much bureaucracy or something new and energetic with a young leader? Should I do grassroots community work, administrative type tasks or event planning? What kind of coworkers do I want to spend over a third of my day with?

Internships are short — typically 2 to 6 months — which gives you much more flexibility in choosing the right career and job environment. In my opinion, this is much more effective than waiting until your first job after college to decide if you like what you do. Having many short internships is normal while job hopping after college is frowned open.

Speaking of jobs, public relations and other communications careers are very competitive. They seem glamorous, are frequently shown on popular TV shows and movies and are highly desirable to people in all majors from business and marketing to English and art history. Try doing a search for entry-level jobs in PR or related jobs. Not only are they difficult to find, but many of them require one to two years of experience. Yes, “entry-level” jobs require experience, on top of having a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

If you want to work in the media, marketing or communications industry, you will be competing against people with family connections to the industry. Create an advantage by gaining more experience than your peers. How do you find an internship? Check out my prior post on obtaining an internship. Keep your ego in check and be willing to work hard and for little or no money. If you put the time in now, soon enough, the jobs will follow. You will likely have to do an unpaid internship or much relevant volunteer experience before you start getting offers for paid internships, fellowships and freelance work. Take whatever experience you can get now.

5. Post-graduation tips

What if you have already graduated or are about to graduate in an irrelevant subject or without enough experience? Consider graduate school. There are many Master’s programs in journalism, public relations, advertising, corporate communication, broadcasting and various other subjects. A master’s degree will give you a heads up in the job search while simultaneously giving you more time to focus on gaining experience.

Can’t attend grad school? Consider taking post-grad classes or workshops in crisis communication, multimedia journalism, feature writing, PR campaigns and other important courses. You may be able to complete a certificate in a short amount of time. Workshops can also be included in your resume under the education section.

If you can’t find a job, find a fellowship or internship. If you can’t find an internship, volunteer one day a week for an organization or freelance for several organizations. What’s important is that you keep gaining relevant experience. Even if you need to work full-time in your current job, find a few hours a week to gain experience.

If you are a current university student, what are you doing now to prepare for graduation? For graduates, what helped you find your current job? What advice can you give to other readers?

Check out my past articles on career advice:

Twitter Tips: Seven steps to increasing your Twitter potential

In Branding, Career, Marketing, Social Media on March 20, 2013 at 9:48 pm

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Twitter is an effective tool whether you are a representing a company, organization, cause, other person or yourself. However, it can be a time-suck if you don’t know how to use it effectively.

1. Know the basics

What do you plan to use Twitter for? Twitter is not a time waster if you use it wisely. You can use it to connect with people who have similar interests, network with professionals, keep up with news and industry trends and promote your brand, organization or even your own personal brand. Make sure your tagline includes important tidbits that reflect who you are and why you are on Twitter.

Finally, if this is a personal Twitter account, include a good picture of yourself. People are more likely to follow an actual person than someone hiding behind a picture of someone or something else. If it is for your organization, include a recognized logo.

2. Develop a plan.

Like any good marketer or publicist, you shouldn’t devote time to social media without developing a strategic plan first. Even if this is for your personal Twitter account, it makes sense to think of a general strategy. Consider what are the main topics you would like to tweet about. Try to stick to less than five main categories of interests and include these in your description.

Try to tweet every day or use HootSuite schedule your tweets. HootSuite can also be used to manage your Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media profiles. It’s a great tool if you manage many social media accounts for yourself or for clients.

3. Make everyone word count.

A mark of a great writer is one who can express herself in few words. If you are a communications professional, you should have great writing skills by now. Put them to work by writing Tweets that are concise, grammatically correct and meaningful. Find ways to get your point across in 140 characters. When you include links, use a URL shortener such as Bit.ly to make every character count.

4. Make effective use of #Hashtags

Try to include relevant hashtags in every post but #don’t #hashtag #every #single #word. See how annoying that is? Useful hashtags for the communications industry include basics like #PR, #PRSA, #SocialMedia and #PRjobs.

The documentary film and movement to change the representation of women and girls in the media, Miss Representation, created the hashtag #NotBuyingIt to call out sexist advertisements. That hashtag received many tweets during the Super Bowl and other large events. They’ve even created a #NotBuyingIt app for smart phones.

Another example is when animal shelters and rescue groups use hashtags like #AdoptDontShop. It’s easy to remember, cute and can be used to find homes for specific animals.

Consider “trending topics.” Many are silly but sometimes you can tie your cause, organization or company into a trending topic. If you are creative, you can use trending topics to gain more followers, many of whom might have never come across you.

5. Remember that Twitter is meant to be SOCIAL.

Always follow users back if they are not spammers and do seem to provide quality content. If you are representing a business or organizations, you should always follow other Twitter users to show. Your organization is not an exclusive club.

Develop relationships with others in the Twitter community. You cannot promote yourself or your organization if influencers do not follow you and retweet you. Who are influencers? They are the Twitter users who have a large amount of active followers that they can mobilize to action. If you want to develop a base of followers and have your content retweeted, you need these influencers to become your loyal supporters and advocates. If you are representing a nonprofit or a cause, make partnerships with relevant organizations or activists by retweeting them regularly.

Retweet any followers who are providing relevant information or interesting links and photos. While it makes sense to retweet users who are posting information about your product, service or organization; you always want to retweet those who are posting about anything relevant to your industry or cause. Even general interests stories and links may be quality retweets.

Ask questions. Answer others’ questions. This is a great and easy way to create interaction and build community. Thank others for when they retweet you. You need maker others feel appreciated.

6. Don’t forget about TweetChat!

If you don’t know what TweetChat is or haven’t used it yet, take advantage of it now. TweetChats are used to talk live with Twitter users from around the globe, about any particular topic of interest. It’s a great resource for many connections, finding followers and learning new information. Use Google to find a list of relevant TweetChats in your industry.

For public relations and marketing professionals, there are many relevant TweetChats such as #BlogChat every Sunday at 9 p.m.. Small Business Buzz (#Sbbuzz) is from 8 to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays. #JournChat is for journalists, publicists and other communications professionals and is held Mondays at 7 to 8 p.m. #PR20Chat is for PR professionals and is at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays.

7. Don’t use Twitter as a hard-sell.

No one gets on Twitter to be sold products or services. Yes, sometimes coupons or links to events are wanted. However, it makes you look like a spammer and many people will unfollow you if you never post other information. Instead, post links to newsworthy articles, whether it’s industry-relevant or a general news or human interest story that is trending. Retweet others’ content. Tweet pictures and videos. Even if you are representing a company or organization, show the human side. Let your personality and interests come through in your tweets.

For more social media tips, check out:

Friending, Tweeting, Pinning.

Interview with a media professional: Ashanté Hill, filmmaker and video editor

In Career, College, Film, Interview with a media professional, Videography on March 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm

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Ashanté Shomari Hill is a 20-year-old filmmaker and video editor. He is currently a junior studying film, video art and Japanese at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He speaks to us today about promotional work, video editing, finding internships and following one’s passion.

Stephanie: Can you describe to us what you do for your job?

Ashanté: I go out and shoot the footage and I handle all the set equipment. Once that is done, I take it back to the computer lab and make the movie through computer software and that includes the soundtrack, the special effects and all of that.

Stephanie: Have you done any promotional work?

Ashanté: I haven’t done any promotional work yet but I am in the process of doing some with the women’s studies department at Ohio State University. Currently, I am doing a commercial that focuses on doing students what the major and minor are within the women’s studies department and what skills they can get from it and how it can benefit them intellectually.

Stephanie: Is promotional work something you would like to do in the future?

Ashanté: This is something I would definitely like to do in the future. It would be challenging. To do videos for other companies, it would require me to do research, to learn more about advertising, to think critically and learn how to best represent the message to get across to their audience.

Stephanie: Is this something you would like to formally study?

Ashanté: If I had time, I would definitely like to take courses in advertising and marketing. This is why I am currently taking a persuasion class, I would like to learn more about how advertising and marketing works and how to incorporate these theories into my promotional work.

Stephanie: Can you tell us about your major?

Ashanté: My major is in film studies which is the study of film history and film theory. But my concentration is in video production which can be the video production courses taken through the theater department. They focus on learning on to shoot video and edit video and on learning how to produce video, with the current standards of the equipment and software.

Stephanie: What is your favorite part of the film major?

Ashanté: There are not only film theory and film theory from an American perspective but you can also take film classes during other departments such as the German Department, French Department, East Asian Literature Department and even the Women’s Studies Department. My favorite part is to learn about it from different things opposed to having to learn film from one perceptive.

Stephanie: You are only a junior yet you’re already on your third internship. What would you recommend to other students to help them get on the right track?

Ashanté: I personally came into college thinking that I wanted to major in Japanese which is why I came to the Ohio State University in the first place. Upon taking these courses, I realized that it was something that I enjoyed but it was something that I was not passionate about. I think one of the things college teaches us is that it’s okay to be good at something but not passionate about something. And I think once you get to that point in your college career, you can actually focus on what you want to do. I definitely recommend getting to that point in your life as soon as possible. Then you can choose your major, choose your courses and start finding internships and networking to realize the professional goals that you have.

Stephanie: Would you recommend that people don’t go to college until then?

Ashanté: No, I recommend that I do go to college because higher learning gives a sense about what professional life is like; our courses will help us prepare for professional skills. Once you go to college and take courses in what you want to do, that is when you’ll realize if it’s something that you actually want to do. I don’t think it’s something you can know about unless you’ve tried it.

Stephanie: How did you find your internships?

Ashanté: I found my very first internship at age 18 through a program that was for underrepresented minorities. I got into this program and they helped me write up a resume and found me a job that pertained to my career goals. They found a job that pertained to experience I had, which is in graphic design. I found a job, which is as a graphic design intern.

After that internship ending, I did some research about local companies that had anything to do with art, film or videos. I came across the Wexner Center for the arts. I simply found their website and looked to see if they had any internships and they did so I applied and got accepted. Even though the internship that I actually got wasn’t the internship that I wanted to get into, it ended up being a lot more productive. I got to work personally a professional filmmaker.

From that internship, I actually found a flyer referencing an internship in digital media and it was actually accessible through the university’s website for internships and jobs. I didn’t even realize that the university had that website. I recommend college students find out if their university has a website like that because it’s very helpful and user friendly. I got that internship. My current internship is writing for a show called Writer’s Talk. This is a Youtube portion and a broadcasted talk show portion. We interview authors and bands that come to Columbus or OSU. My position is digital media assistant and what I do is that I go with them, I shoot the interviews then come back to the computer lab, edit the videos and we post them on the website. After that, we do an audio version for podcast broadcasting.

Stephanie: Can you tell me more about your internship from last summer?

Ashanté: For the Wexner Center, they did a community outreach program. They picked 10 artists between the ages of 16 and 21 and they brought them in for 2 weeks to each build a proposal in any way they could with the artistic skills that they have with professional architects who are building a youth project in the Wexner Center.

What I did is that I worked with their hired professional filmmaker and we shot the entire program, we interviewed the young artists, we interned the architects, we interviewed the entire staff. We put together a documentary covering the entire program. It turned out well. We got to have all the artists come back a few month later and they got to see the documentary as well as the head of the Wexner Center for the Arts, who is someone who is really interested in a youth perspective of the center that they planned on building.

Stephanie: What would you advise to people who want to follow your career path?

Ashanté: The first thing I advise is to see if you want to get a higher education or if you want to focus on gaining skills. If you want a higher education, don’t go to film school. It will only get you skills, not an education. Skills are something that you can learn without going to school. Nowadays, you can just hop on YouTube and learn about digital skills and what you may want to get into.

If you decide that school is not for, you need to start researching and saving to take up money to take classes in film and video editing at places like Adobe or Apple. Once you feel like you’ve gotten to the point where you feel like you can do video work, I would start applying to jobs and internships that pertain to your skills, as long as it’s something in your reach and doesn’t require more experience than you actually have.

If you decide that if you want to pursue a higher education, then you should take as many classes as you can manage. For the major, closest to your field. If you can’t find a major closest to your field at your school, then see if they have a personalized major where you can construct a plan that will help you move into your future profession. In addition to that, see if your school has any internships or part-time jobs pertaining to film or digital media. They may have a station or Youtube channel pertaining to students that you can use for your resume when you graduate.

Ashanté: I would like to add, for students, it’s okay if you don’t know what you want to major in or if you decide that what you do is not what you wanted to do. Because what you actually decide to do will be all the more rewarding.

Check out Ashante’s short film for the Wexner Center:

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