A crisp Dallas morning greeted guests at the Omni Hotel next to the lake for the Public Relations Society of America Dallas Communication Summit. The scent of Starbuck coffee and designer perfume filled the air and the sights that met me were turquoise and jade jewelry, bright pink petticoats and of course, big hair. My hometown of Big D calls up several archetypes like big jewelry, big hair, big personalities, and big business. After all, it is home to giants like America’s football team, and the internationally known cosmetics and entrepreneurship company Mary Kay.
In true Dallas form, the PRSA had a big morning planned for the guests of summit that included a keynote from MK’s Director of Corporate Relations, Crayton Webb. Other members of the makeup power house corporate communications team were also in attendance including Virginia Hock, Corporate Communications Coordinator. Virginia, a graduate of the University of Arkansas, and I spoke briefly at the conference about breaking into the public relations industry and transitioning from a different career. She agreed to speak to me further about her experiences and share her tips on how to succeed in corporate communications. I planned to ask her ten questions, and soon after found out the top ten things that every emerging public relations star should keep in their career “makeup” kit.
TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW TO LAUNCH YOUR PR CAREER
1. Pick journalism/public relations
Virginia always had a little bit of that writing bug in her. “I was always really interested in it, always been a fan of different news anchors and I wanted to write. I was also really engaged in government and politics.” She made the decision to get a degree in journalism and political science from the University of Arkansas and graduated in 2009. She originally started out on the path towards broadcast then realized she liked more of the behind the scenes writing and the content creation.
2. Know Before You Graduate
Building your career starts before you get your degree, which is something not too many college students realize. Virginia says she was lucky to know that the competitive job market required experience as well. Internships are the key to getting a good entry level career job. She had a great opportunity to intern for Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas 1999-2010) as well as for Mary Kay, which she states gave her the experience that was necessary to apply for and ultimately land those entry level public relations jobs. Leaning on experiences, the relationships built from them and the involvement in student organizations helped Virginia thrive in the transition from back pack to briefcase.
3. If the question is “to write, or not to write,” the answer is always “Write.”
Writing is extremely important in public relations. From writing an email to crafting a press release “knowing your audience is key,” states Virginia. She advises that students get published as a writer and constantly work on their craft. Developing this professional skill will go far in public relations.
4. Intern, Intern, Intern
If there was one single career choice that led her to where she is now, choosing to intern would be the pivotal moment for Virginia. To stress the importance of internships, Virginia says absolutely, interning and building your network are the two practices that any entry level PR professional needs to be keen on. “My work as an intern at Mary Kay turned into a full time job!”
5. The first challenge in PR is the interview
The interview process can be daunting. Tackling tough questions in the interview is often the first challenge for young communications professionals. Mary Kay asked Virginia to tell them what she felt the biggest PR challenge was for their company. She answered truthfully and included solutions. “Mary Kay is not your mother’s make up.” Having done her research, an element that helped her ace the questioning, Virginia knew about the company, but most importantly the industry. She impressed the interviewer by knowing about the company’s global status, the cosmetics industry, and where PR fit into the mix. As a savvy job searcher, she knew the application process went farther than an online application. One thing she stressed was that you have to know your company, know your industry, and part of being a good public relations specialist is the know how to follow up, and keep in contact with the people you are applying to work for.
6. Remember these quick tips for Beginners in the Biz
- Student organizations are your place to shine- Virginia suggests joining the PRSSA, student chapter of public relations society of America, as well as any other student organization. Student organizations not only give you an extra line on your resume, but students have the great opportunity to head committees on communications, practice grassroots public relations, or simply learn about planning and working in teams.
- Use your resources- Using your resources on campus such as the career center help you stay current on public relations standards but also offer connections to learn what to expect on your job interviews. You can find mentors at internships or at professional development activities that you can use as sounding boards for advice. Stay on top of the news by following blogs like PR News.
- Find a niche- Whether it is writing or using social media, finding a niche and working it as a strong suite will get you far.
7. Never stop learning
Focusing on professional development and staying current in news is essential for a communications professional. As a corporate communications coordinator, Virginia is allotted the time to attend conferences and participate in webinars through Mary Kay’s media monitoring service. Professional development comes in all shapes and sizes, from conferences to local meetings. “You should seek them out anyway,” if your company does not offer participation in the events. After all, they are a direct investment into your career.
8. Know what you do
Corporate communications involves a lot of media monitoring, internal as well as external communications. Virginia’s typical daily activities include monitoring media mentions, compiling news for the PR team, creating press releases for sales force members, sending memorandums through the intranet, monitoring the media hotline, involvement in interviews, writing different messages for different audiences “lots of writing,” and acting on your feet.
9. Love what you do &
10. Share it with others
To wrap up our conversation, I asked Virginia to share with me one of the projects of which she is most proud. “I feel lucky to be with such a great company,” beamed Virginia before she told me not one, but two accounts of her favorite projects. The first included the Lobbying for Good campaign which was launched for Mary Kay’s 50th Anniversary. The campaign instilled the pretty in pink sales force in lobbying for the prevention and end of domestic violence. The social responsibility campaign included videos and activities in capital cities of Texas, California, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Boston, D.C. and Pennsylvania.
The second was a media relations project with local news station WFAA. Mary Kay has a long tradition of hosting a seminar for its independent sales associations, which take place every year from July to August. Seminar events often attract the attention of news media, like was the case when Gloria Campos, WFAA Dallas news anchor approached Mary Kay to do two behind the scenes stories. “Inside the Pink Empire,” were two segments that were featured on the WFAA news. Gloria, a veteran newscaster braved the cameras without makeup on for the first feature- a bit about the new makeover app:
The second story gave Dallasites an inside look at the production plant of the cosmetic giant that promises a low impact on the environment with its products.
Virginia’s involvement included but was not limited to the relationship building and media training of local sales associates. She’s thankful that she has a team that is encouraged to be more creative, and create really great feelings with stories about the company and its league of empowered independent sales consultants. There’s pride in her voice when she talks about the company, and the campaigns they produce. Mary Kay is focused on community and corporate responsibility, which is reflected in their communications and lobbying for change in domestic violence policies. Virginia’s other passion and major in college was political science, and she even thought about going to law school. Now, she’s found her niche as a communicator working for an uplifting organization that is very involved in political reform. It could be more than a coincidence that Virginia signs her emails with a graphic that says “I love my Mary Kay.”