By Asa McCormick
In early October, I received a phone call from Johnny Sparks, chairman of the Department of Journalism at Ball State University. After a brief conversation, Dr. Sparks informed me I was selected to attend a conference with The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Despite my limited knowledge about the program at the time, I instantly said I wanted to participate.
Within a few weeks, emails began pouring in regarding The Challenge for Emerging Leaders. I was quickly introduced to the four other members of my team, along with our professional adviser Myreete Wolford.
Our assignment for the challenge involved crafting a recruitment plan that would help to diversify the talent pool for a large agency in Chicago. In the weeks leading up to the challenge, our team met weekly via conference calls. As we each tuned in from our own corner of the Midwest, our team began the process of researching what a diverse millennial looks for in an employer. This process allowed us to challenge our individual beliefs and misconceptions regarding people in our age group. Before leaving for Chicago, our team felt we had strong research to show what diverse millennials are looking for in their future careers.
Our team hit the ground running the second we arrived at DePaul University last week. Our goal was to complete a strategic plan and prepare a presentation for the HR leader at the agency. With our research complete, we joined together and instantly began bouncing ideas around for where to go next. Over the course of the two-day experience, our team was allotted approximately four hours to complete this project.
I was very impressed with the set up of the program. Despite only having a limited amount of time to work with our groups, our days were filled valuable lessons and insights from industry leaders. From leadership training with Dr. Peter Hammerschmidt, to learning business concepts with DePaul professors Ron Culp and Dr. Matt Ragas, each day was filled with lessons that I will keep with me throughout my professional career. Dr. Bruce Berger led the program with Plank Center support from Dr. Karla Gower and Jessika White. Other speakers included Weber Shandwick’s Glenn Eden and Edelman’s Joseph Tateoka.
As we came closer to the day of our presentation, our team identified our key insight, which stated: Diverse millennials want to be appreciated for their uniqueness at a company that shares their same values and aspirations.
Our plan involved specific tactics that we believe would change the way agencies recruit future talent. The day before the presentation, our team continued to dive into our key insight and apply it to our entire proposal. Through the various strategies and tactics we crafted, our team never lost focus of our key insight. Through the work sessions and late night meetings, our team was confident that this plan would lead to positive change.
On the day of the presentation, our team met one final time to prepare. We spent the hour practicing selling our plan. As the final minutes passed, we rehearsed and began to head to the presentations. Our team was selected to present last, which meant we would hear the three other groups first. Each presentation was filled with insightful and powerful tools designed to address the problem we were presented with. When it was our turn to present, our team channeled the advice we received throughout the conference. We knew our material, and we believed that our plan could- and would- lead to positive change. After we presented our idea, it was time to attend a lunch banquet.
On the last day of the challenge, we had the opportunity to hear from Raschanda Hall at Business Wire. Like most speakers, Ms. Hall discussed her unique career path in the field of PR. Towards the end of her speech, Ms. Hall finished with some of the best advise I have yet to receive. We are born the CEO of our own life. However, even as the CEO we won’t always make the right decisions or know our next steps to take. Ms. Hall told us that we must appoint a “board of directors” to our lives.
The day I left the conference, I called the people closest to me and asked: Will you serve on my board of directors, and help me navigate myself into becoming the best person I can be? Without hesitation, each person said yes. I applied the advice of Ms. Hall and I feel confident in my future because I now have a strong support team by my side.
After hearing from Ms. Hall, the team with The Plank Center announced that our presentation was selected as the winner. As we were presented the Betsy Plank Case Study Competition award, our team was overjoyed by our accomplishment. Winning the award was one part of it, but I think the main part of our excitement came from knowing that change is coming. The work that our team- and the three other teams- presented will be used to help recruit the next generation of talent for a large agency.
The Challenge for Emerging Leaders completely changed my outlook of the future. From interacting one-on-one with industry leaders, to connecting with 19 of my future peers, I feel inspired and motivated for my future in PR. Participating in a project that will lead positive recruitment changes at one of Chicago’s largest agencies is an amazing feeling.
The Plank Center plans for 1,000 students to attend the challenge in the coming years. It is the highlight of my undergraduate experience to say that I am one of those students.
Thank you to The Plank Center and to every person who made this program so valuable.
Asa McCormick is a senior at Ball State University and a member of the team that won the Besty Plank Case Study Competition. Twitter @asamccormick