Stephanie Heckman

Archive for the ‘Public Relations’ Category

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


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:


How to Dress for the Communications Industry

In Career, Marketing, Public Relations, Style on March 17, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Every wonder how to dress for PR, marketing or other communications field?

1. If you aren’t sure, just don’t go there.

Crenshaw Communications says that if you’re asking whether it’s “too big, too short or too shiny, it might be too much.” There’s many ways to express your personal style without seeming inappropriate, too bold or sexy. If you have any uncertainty, ask a friend or snap a picture of yourself. Sometimes, seeing a photo is all you need to erase any doubts.

PR Daily says to never become “that person” whose outfits are always the topic of workplace conversation. You want to be seen as stylish but always professional and never over-the-top with your outfits. Try expressing your personal style through subtle patterns or accessories, not through anything too bold or inappropriate.

2. Never doubt the power of cute flats.Image

Why cause yourself unnecessary pain? Find cute, comfortable flats that you can run all over town in. If you, like me, have small heels or feet, choose heel inserts to prevent chaffing. Heels might seem more professional but it won’t be cute when you’re feet are blistering or you are stumbling around the office. You might try keeping a pair of heels under your desk or changing into flats if you need to run work errands. On the opposite spectrum, you shouldn’t be wearing flip flops, casual sandals or Toms to work, in almost any workplace environment. A noted exception is Google or another extremely casual tech company.

3. Never doubt how amazing a blazer can make you look.


Have you ever seen anyone look unprofessional in a blazer? A blazer can dress up anything: jeans, t-shirt, even a tank top. To get the most use out of a blazer, choose one that is not too tight in the shoulders, waist or hips and doesn’t pull when you stretch or move around. Pick a high-quality fabric that will work for any season. I have a basic grey blazer but I always own ones in cobalt blue, white and black stripes and other colors. It’s a great way to dress up any look or to add color to something monochromatic.

4. You can never go wrong with a dress.


I have yet to see anyone look unprofessional in a well-made, nicely-cut dress. I prefer dresses with short sleeves or no sleeves, a natural waist and a slight flair. Dress it up with a skinny belt at the waist. I think a vintage cut always looks classy and flatters every body type. Black dresses are always in style but a beautiful color or quirky pattern work well in creative industries. Just make sure that it’s close to the knee and never low-cut or tight all over. Pair it with a quality pair of tights in the winter. If sleeveless, pair it with an appropriate cardigan or blazer.

5. Great button-ups are always necessary.

It doesn’t matter if it’s white, black, striped, polka dot, cotton or silky. Button-ups (or as some people say, button-downs) always look classy and professional. The one rule to remember is to choose shirts that are never too tight. If it pulls at the chest or waist, choose one size up, even it seems to big. A loose look is more trendy, but you can always tuck it in, belt it or tie it if it seems too loose. Never forget the power of a good tailor. While a classic white button-up should be in every closet, I like to spruce up with various colors and patterns. Pair your button-up shirt or blouse with a pencil skirt, slacks or even dark skinny jeans on a casual Friday.

6. Find a way to express your style, no matter your office’s image.

Personally, I love polka dots and floral prints. If I worked for a conservative office, I could still express my style by choosing a dress with a subtle floral print or pairing a conservative black dress with polka dot flats. There’s always a way to express your style without seeming inappropriate. Many consider jewelry or scarves to be an easy way to incorporate style into your work clothes.

7. If all else fails, throw on a cardigan.


I’ve never understood why so many people don’t wear cardigans. They are comfortable, always weather-appropriate depending on the materials, affordable and an easy way to change your look. I have cardigans in red, white with black striping, navy, black and other colors. It may give you extra style cred if your cardigan is in a cute but appropriate pattern or a basic striped style. I think cardigans look great over dresses, button-ups, t-shirts and essentially anything.

8. Make sure you have a great pair of jeans.

Like PR Diva recommends, a great pair of jeans is part of the “publicist’s uniform.” It doesn’t necessarily matter how much you paid for them, although a more expensive part is likely to last longer. What does matter is that they are professional: no holes, no tears, no fading. Choose something that is style but not overtly trending, well-made, nicely fitted and dark wash. Pair it with a great shirt, blazer and flats.

9. Finally, if in doubt, throw on some red lipstick.

If paired with simple or minimal makeup, it’s impossible not to look both professional and glamorous in a coat of red lipstick. If you wear it every day, it might just become part of your personal style.

What Women Want in Life and Career

In Career, Multitasking, Public Relations, Women's Issues on March 12, 2013 at 5:35 am

Can we really have it all?


If Rosie the Riveter could do it, can we do it too?

Work and life balance seems to be a huge issue among modern women. LinkedIn recently published a blog post called “What Do Women Want? At Work, That Is. . .” The findings were released to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. The study found that two-thirds of women worldwide believe that finding work-life balance is the ticket to success. This is a marked difference from results 10 years ago in which women chose “salary,” “interesting job” and “responsibility” as their top choices.

Fortunately, 74% of women believe that they can “have it all” while 57% do not plan on sacrificing their career after becoming parents. The majority of women polled said that they would like a flexible work environment for the present or future, after having children. Only 14% of women did not feel it was necessary to have job flexibility. Fortunately for young women planning to enter the communications field, jobs can now be made more flexible through part-time telecommuting or even working from a coffee shop one day per week.

What’s changed? Some argue that perhaps the global economic crisis has inspired women (and men) to start prioritizing personal life and family over career. After all, career is certainly important but jobs can be lost at any time. Also, childcare is very expensive, particularly in large urban areas. Many couples want to cut back on the cost of childcare and dining out by working fewer hours. This also may be related to the emergence of urban gardening, crafting, sewing, knitting and cooking seen in many hip neighborhoods.

With my educational background in Strategic Communication and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, this topic is of particular interest to me. Do women experience less discrimination in public relations? Although most PR professionals are women, women in PR make less money on average and are less likely to fill upper-level positions.

By nature, PR professionals must be great at multitasking and stereotypically, women are also claimed to be great at this skill. However, public relations executive was recently named the seventh most stressful job – more stressful than journalism or working as a police officer! It makes sense that PR is so stressful: you must be constantly multitasking, planning, representing an entire organization, handling multiple jobs and preparing for crisis communications. It doesn’t seem easy to balance such a stressful job with family and personal life.

As a university senior and a young 20-something professional, I don’t have children, pets or other family obligations. My worries center around my classes, projects, essays, personal life, internship, commuting keeping my apartment clean and cooking healthy meals. College holds enough stress; however, I’m already planning for the days in the next decade or so when I will have to balance career, family and life.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever experienced difficulty balancing your career and life? Did it become more difficult after marriage, children and other responsibilities? What advice do you offer to young women on this topic?

Six Tips for Finding an Internship

In Branding, Career, College, Public Relations on February 27, 2013 at 1:27 am

Finding internships during college is the most important step one can take to starting a career. Internships are the new entry-level jobs, especially in PR. During these challenging economic times, most “entry-level” jobs now require one to two years of experience and many technical skills. The question many recent grads ask is: “How do I gain experience without having experience?”


1. Increase your marketability. If you are majoring in journalism, communication or public relations, consider adding a minor in another marketable subject such as business or nonprofit management, professional writing, video editing or graphic design. If you have in a liberal arts major such as English, consider increasing your relevance in PR through taking elective courses in editing or business writing with perhaps a double minor in a communication or journalism with one of the above minors. Any courses that can increase your amount of marketable skills should be considered. Try to find a way to connect your education with the specific field you are interested in joining.

2. Keep gaining experience. Writing is the most important skill you can have in PR. By becoming a college reporter for at least a year during college, you can learn important skills in reporting, interviewing, writing and editing that many hopeful PR professionals did not learn in college. After you gain experience as a reporter, considering venturing into becoming an editor or a freelance writing. Many local publications and start-up online magazines do not pay writers or pay very little. However, these writing clips can be used for your portfolio and may lead to paid writing gigs. You should also consider doing volunteer PR, fundraising, social media or event planning work for a local nonprofit that you support. Even a few hours a week can lead to an internship.

3. Develop your personal brand. Even if you are a first-year in college, it’s important to start promoting your personal image and brand. Create a professional Twitter, Facebook. Pinterest and LinkedIn used to follow important brands and organizations in your industry, industry news and media. Use these social media websites to share links to relevant news stories, articles in popular marketing, advertising and PR journals or magazines and recent academic news. Create positive relationships with journalists, communication professionals and others in industry. By having professional social media accounts, you not only demonstrate to your future employers that you have social media experience but you also show that you are a go-getter.

4. Talk to your college’s career service office. Most universities and colleges have an underused career service office. Through career services, you can have your resume improved and learn interviewing skills. Many times, you can also gain information about internships and jobs. Your university may also have a webpage that can be used for job searches.

5. Look through your department’s website. I found my most current PR internship through my university’s School of Communication. There is a huge amount and diversity of organizations seeking interns. You should also be able to find internships through the school of arts and sciences. If you have a minor, it may help open you to even more internships in related subjects.

6. Utilize your resources to find the perfect internship. Think about what industries you would most like to enter. Are you a finance type? Or are you more interested in museums and galleries? Do you want to promote politicians or celebrities? Or are you more interested in book or music publicity? Write a list of companies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and boutique agencies. that you would like to work for in the future. Begin following them on LinkedIn and trying to connect with professionals in these fields. Many times you can find information about internships directly through the organizations’ websites.

Unequal pay in Public Relations?

In Career, Public Relations, Women's Issues on February 18, 2013 at 5:29 am


It’s been four years since the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed in 2008. This question has been on every career woman’s mind: is it finally better yet?

In almost every field, men still make around 20 percent more than women do. Back in 2005, women earned 81 percent of what men did, which was an all-time high. This gap has increased in the last eight years and only recently returned to 2005 levels. Black and Latina women have even bigger pay gaps compared. Respectively, they earn 69 and 54 percent of white males, according to

Women receive the same education, have the same amount of debt, are more likely to attend college and have higher GPAs (3.11 versus 2.94) on average. Why is there still a gap? Some argue that the pay gap exists because of choices in career in college majors, with men more likely to choose STEM careers. However, studies show that there is still a 7 percent gap on average between men and women in the same occupation. This difference may be due to discrimination, according to USA Today.

According to a recent post by NPR, the jobs with the smallest gaps tend to be the lowest paying. The pay gap varies by profession: it’s 74 cents on the dollar in financial professions and a shocking 53.7 percent in the legal industry, according to Forbes.

What is the gap for women working in PR? The majority of PR professionals are women, including 73 percent of all members of the Public Relations Society of America. However, 80 percent of top PR management consist of men while women continue to make less. As an industry gains a higher percentage of women, the profession’s prestige and pay tends to decrease.

In 2006, women in PR made 69 percent of what men did. In 2010, that difference was down to 60 percent. Female PR professionals with less than 5 years of experience make $29,726 compared to $48,162 for men. In the 15 to 20 year range, it’s $49,270 compared to $69,120.

Worldwide, the pay gap is 16 percent. For adults without children, the gap is only 7 percent but widens to twenty-two percent after women have had at least one child, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) claims that the lack of childcare is the main reason why women without children make lower salaries.

A lack of childcare options can lead to career interruption. Case in point: the cost of childcare is 65 percent of a family’s second wage in the US and UK. Women who take time off work to raise children have the largest pay gaps and are rehired for lower salaries than women who remain in their professions.

What are your thoughts on the wage gap? What can be done to narrow it? What have you experienced in your career?

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