PRSSA Conferences Provide Hands On Experience in Event Planning, Execution and Networking

College students aspiring for careers in public relations gain valuable experience through organizing and executing events such as the recent PRSSA Regional Conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I had the opportunity to speak at the conference and observe the talented future professionals in action. University of Alabama senior Cole Lanier describes the program that was flawlessly executed by Taylor Shelnutt, Cole Lanier, Lindsey Young, Kaitlin Goins, Katie Gatti, Emily Clack, Kennedy Studdard, Sarah Dougherty, Sarah Augustinsky, Katrina Swarthout, Bethany Corne, Olivia Ortiz, Jada Culver and Brittany Ray.

Organizing team for PRSSA Regional Conference at University of Alabama

Organizing team for PRSSA Regional Conference at University of Alabama

By Cole Lanier

Recently, the PRSSA chapter at the University of Alabama, of which I am an executive board member, hosted a regional conference. It was a new experience for all of us, one that proved to be very fruitful for all of us. We hosted over 150 students from all over the southeast, and we had speakers come to Tuscaloosa from around the country, and from many different areas of public relations, from corporate to agency. In a word, it was incredible. For me, there were so many highlights to the weekend, but I’m going to focus on three of my favorites here.

On Friday, one of our breakout sessions was led by Rick White, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Communication and Public Affairs at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the topic was leadership in PR. Last semester, I took a class at Alabama about PR leadership, taught by Dr. Bruce Berger, so I was genuinely interested to hear this presentation. I was blown away. The presentation started with the old question: “Are leaders born, or are they made?” From there, Rick laid out several different ways for PR students to become leaders, no matter the age. One of the points that stuck out to me the most was when he said, “Leadership can happen anywhere…not just at the front.” Sometimes, especially as a student, I think it’s easy to look at the people in authority over you and just let them handle anything and tell you where to go, but that does not always have to be the case. You’ll impress your bosses if you are willing to take initiative and lead, but you have to be careful and pick your spot. That was one of Rick’s five points about preparing to lead as a student. The other points were: Be self-aware, practice every day leadership, have consistency of purpose and have an attitude of contribution. He also encouraged students to make sure they managed themselves correctly, including managing time and priorities. Too often, I forget how to manage both of those things, and it never ends well. Rick’s presentation was truly eye-opening, and I loved it.

On Saturday morning, we were fortunate enough to hear from Ron Culp, a PR veteran. In his presentation, Ron focused on my people: the students. He gave tips on everything, from resume and cover letters to social media and locations. His encouragement to students was to find somewhere they want to be, doing what they want to do. One of the things he recommended for recent PR graduates is to live in a large market city. I am hoping to move to Chicago after I graduate in May, so that was good news to me. He said, “You will find a way to survive if you want to be in that market.” As graduation nears, I think a lot of PR students, especially me, get concerned that an internship won’t pay enough to live, especially with the cost of living in major markets so high, so hearing Ron’s encouragement gave me some relief. Ron’s presentation was one of my favorites for several reasons, but the biggest reason is that it was so applicable; it was tailored to college students, especially ones that are looking for their first post-graduate internship or job. It was timely too, considering many agencies are starting their searches for summer interns. All in all, it was fantastic, and made me more excited than ever to graduate and step out in to the real world.

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