For my interview project I interviewed my aunt and uncle. It was a couple of phone interviews because they live and work in Chicago. They both have careers where public relations are extremely important to keep their companies running. Both of them had some really great advice along with showing me what it takes to work in a public relations field, or working with public relations practitioners. With this Intro to Public Relations class, I was able to keep up with what they were talking about and ask questions that they were impressed by. I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but I’ve really enjoyed this class and I’m thankful that when I got to interview them it also gave me a chance to get to know them a little better, a chance I probably wouldn’t have got if I wasn’t taking this class.
Kate Walden, my aunt, I asked her to give me an overview of what her job title is. She said, “I work public relations but technically my job title is Director of Marketing Communications.” She went on to say that she started out with a journalism degree; she wanted to be a journalist. She started out working as a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune. She went on to say, “it was really fun and I really loved telling stories.” She did that for quite awhile and it seemed glamorous but it was a lot of long hours and doesn’t pay very well, she wanted to start a family. If she wanted to go further up the journalism food chain, she had to move away and she just wasn’t interested in that. This was back in the 90’s, the Internet hadn’t really taken off the way that it is now. Kate said it was much different than it is now. “Fortunately I was able to make my switch right as that Internet curve was taking off, not that journalism is a dying art, it’s just a changing art.” I understood what she meant because now you have the ability to write online and become known easily without a degree, all you need is a blog and something interesting to write about.
I asked Kate what her favorite and least favorite part of her job was. Her answer was, “I love the story-telling, it’s boring just to write press-releases and just announce something but when you can make a story out of it, that’s my favorite part.” Then “Reporters really in general do not like PR people, they just think its corporate-y.” Thankfully, she said you can get in a journalist’s head and think, why does this matter to me? Why does this appeal to me? And keeping the stories local is always important because otherwise they won’t care about it. She said it’s very important in PR if you’re working with a journalist, to know their language, what they want and to be on the same level with them. She explained how important it is for a Public Relations expert to have journalism experience, to understand them better. Even regular classes in college on journalism will help when you have to work with reporters. Also, it’s important to build relationships with reporters over time because a lot of them aren’t interested in getting in touch with PR people. Hopefully these reporters turn it into a place where they call their PR person for information on an article they may be writing.
Kate’s company, Heartland, runs like an agency but they aren’t one. In this particular job, she works communications for only the company that she works for. “We operate as an agency inside our own borders. When it comes to anything I do, I represent Heartland, not any other clients.”
I asked her if she has to travel a lot for her job. She said they do something called a geo-target market. Heartland has a market in Oklahoma City and Louisville. Kate informed me that when they open their company up in a different city, they have to make it local. They want to elevate their brand, and create awareness of your company. “When they hit up a reporter, you have to be able to tell them why your company matters, but also how it applies to their area.”
What skills or classes did she take in college to help her in her career? She very much emphasized on journalism courses. It was a huge help to her in writing press releases and understanding the reporters’ language. Newspaper and magazine writing have to be done, and those classes keep your writing skills on top. “I’m old school, when I was in college they don’t have the classes that they do now, when you’re good at communications or public relations it’s almost essential to take classes that put you in the journalism frame of mind.” She also says you HAVE to take social media classes wherever they might provide it. Kate said that in any communications of public relations you have to understand the use of social media and be able to utilize it.
I know that in this class we are preparing to possibly go into a career of public relations. We need to know what to expect and what would be useful to do while we are in college so I asked Kate what she thought. She answered immediately that we should be doing internships as soon as possible. Do as much internships as we can. “You can only take so many classes but real life experience is extremely important. Get involved with school newspapers and diversify yourself. Write articles and submit them some place.” I think this is really great advice from someone who is already working in the career that we are working towards. She also mentioned that if you start contributing to a magazine or a newspaper you get noticed and put your foot in the door with reporters. Kate said that any type of internship would work, like social media work, journalism internship with a newspaper or magazine, maybe even some advertising because that also plays a role in public relations. One thing I found interesting is when she said that it’s important to create a voice for yourself even now, that will help find a job when you’re ready to start your career. It makes sense; it’s one extra thing that you can bring to the “job interview” table that sets you apart from everyone else that they interview. Nowadays, everyone knows that 95% of the time, you need a degree to get a decent job. But finding things outside of that degree that sets you apart from the rest of the applicants for the job. Creating a voice for yourself and already understanding the idea of social media and how it can help your potential company will put you at the top of the list. This will be a huge help to me with any future job/career and I really do now believe that building my own voice will help me in the long run.
I had such a great interview with Kate that I could probably write 10,000 more words about the great advice and information that she gave me. But, since you probably don’t want me to give you 10,000 more words to read I’ll go on with Greg’s Interview. Greg works for a company called Geometry Global. He used to work for a company called Ogilvy & Mather. Ogilvy & Mather is international advertising, marketing and public relations agency. Geometry Global was born out of a merger between G2, OgilvyAction, and JWTAction. He is an Event Production Director.
Greg explained to me that the way Kate does PR is very much a lot of writing press releases and keeping in touch with journalists. His job is about promoting brands from a public relations standpoint. His projects are spent working side by side with PR practitioners who promote the agency’s brand. The PR practitioners are retained by the brand to do a number of things, promote it essentially and to do things like crisis management. Greg creates events for companies and the PR practitioners come in and organize it. They find the place for the event, maybe even celebrities to host it and contacting radio and TV shows to spread the word about the event.
For example, Greg is currently working on a project for Holiday INN Express. They have a food truck that they go to different places that makes pancakes. You can take a ‘selfie’ and send it to the food truck; they will then print them out onto the pancake. It’s really cool; the PR people are actually the ones who got the Chicago morning shows to promote it. What’s even cooler is that they got comedian Rob Riggle to do commercial ads for it. This is the way that the PR people used their target audience to get to know about the truck and it’s extremely creative to use it. Greg says that it’s a lot of fun to work the job that he is but being a director, it’s a lot of stress and long hours and hard work. But he seems to really enjoy what he does so I’m sure that it’s worth it.
As college kids, it’s good to know what to expect in a certain field. We go to school and learn as much as we can but understanding what a job is going to be like is very valuable information to us. From Greg & Kate’s interviews I learned so much. It’s important to take journalism classes and learn as much as possible in social media classes as well. Both of them emphasized on how extremely important internships are. They said they are crucial to finding a job. I also think that whatever you or I choose to do with their career, we should be able to let a college student interview us and sounds as excited as Greg and Kate do. They both genuinely sounded like they really enjoy their jobs and where they’re at and I think that’s more important than anything else.