Spotlight on PR Careers and Education: An Interview With Sarah Woods

We had the opportunity to interview Sarah Woods, Senior Associate at Exponent PR, a Colle+McVoy partner. Colle+McVoy is an integrated advertising agency that has more than 200 employees. Prior to her current position, she worked in various public relations roles at Carmichael Lynch Spong, Carlson Marketing, Padilla Speer Beardsley, Wells Fargo, and United Way. We interviewed her to share her perspective on careers and degrees in Public Relations, and to provide a resource for prospective students wanting to learn more about what their future might look like in PR. Let’s explore:

What are your day-to-day tasks? How have your tasks changed since starting out in your career?

Whether you work for an agency, a non-profit or a corporation, your main goal is to engage with a target audience, communicate a specific message and cause a specific action. At my job as a Senior Associate at Exponent PR, on any given day I tackle a variety of tasks, including media relations outreach, developing media materials, managing a social media page, event planning and execution, brainstorms, campaign planning, and yes, even managing a budget.

Each year brings bigger and more exciting responsibilities. When starting a career in public relations, don’t be discouraged by tasks that may seem menial, such as building media lists, assembling media kits, or tracking media coverage. To prepare yourself for leadership roles, you need to understand the profession from the ground up. Use each small, beginner’s task as a window to broader insights and a path to bigger challenges. A commitment to master the small things will show your employer that you are ready for the next step.

What was your college major? How did college prepare you for your career?

I attended the University of Minnesota‘s School of Journalism and received a Bachelor of Arts in Strategic Communication. The School of Journalism offered a wide range of classes, including traditional news reporting, research, graphic design, advertising, public relations, and communications. This is a pretty standard courseload for strategic communications or PR students.

Faculty within the program provided valuable insights based on real-world experience from advertising/public relations executives and journalists. The also provided access to a database of internship opportunities, which helped me gain early experience in the field. Working at multiple internships during college gave me invaluable experience and made me more marketable to employers when I graduated and began searching for a full-time job.

What was the most beneficial class you took in college that prepared you for your PR career?

The Strategic Communication Campaigns capstone course was extremely valuable because it gave students a chance to apply their classroom knowledge, including everything from research, planning, budgets and  creative concepts, to execute in a “real” campaign. Most PR bachelor’s degrees offer a capstone or “thesis” class that allows you to work on simulated or real-life campaigns.

[More on Public Relations degrees...]

Why would/ wouldn’t you recommend this career path for someone?

I would highly recommend a career in advertising and public relations. Some students might be intimidated by a career with a competitive environment and rapidly changing technologies. Don’t be intimidated. For a career that might require long hours and a piece of your creative soul, you will be repaid in full. Public relations is a unique and inspiring industry that feeds creatives in a fulfilling way, and in today’s marketing environment, public relations is  rising as one of the most effective and respected disciplines.

What personal characteristics work well with a PR professional?

    • Be resourceful. Consider it a form of creativity and a way to prove your problem-solving skills. You will be placed in a wide variety of situations that will require this skill, and your employers will expect you to find a way to make things work, even when initially they don’t go quite as planned.
    • Be mindful of the details. I’ll never forget the first community support campaign event I planned as an intern, and the important lesson to plan down to the most minute detail. During a trial-run to the event site, we had everything ready to go. The handouts, the signage, the presentation, the name tags…it was all there. Only one problem – the outlet was two-pronged, and our electronics were three-pronged. The lesson: details may be small, but they do matter.
    • Be curious. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in order to truly understand an industry. The intern who is afraid to ask is the intern who misses valuable mentorship opportunities.
    • Be creative. At our agency, creativity is not a department, it’s a requirement. Learn where to find inspiration, and fuel it into strategic and insightful ideas that solve business objectives.
    • Be a team player. Don’t squash your competitive streak, but learn how to support your team to cultivate strong relationships both internally and with clients.

Thanks, Sarah! We hope you learned more about this all-important Marketing specialization. For those of you who are interested in guest posting, connect with us on Twitter.