PR professionals provide an insider’s view of industry

The School of Communications hosted its Careers in Public Relations: Diversity & Inclusion Panel Discussion on Sept. 16, featuring strategic communications professionals and human resources executives from G&S Business Communications, W20 Group, Taylor Strategy, Mower, and Charlotte Pipe and Foundry.

Why does Kaitlyn Curtis enjoy working for G&S Business Communications, an integrated public relations firm with offices in Raleigh? The company’s “egoless culture” is an obvious reason, the human resources specialist explained on Sept. 16 to a student audience at the Careers in Public Relations: Diversity & Inclusion Panel Discussion.

Elon student Emily Thomas (center) listens as Jordan Kaye, a human resources and public relations professional with W2O Group, addresses a group of students during a networking reception.

Plus, the company’s leadership team has an open-door policy, and takes the time to build personal relationships with staff members. Curtis joked that her supervisors likely know her dog’s name, and if her child is over a recent illness.

According to Curtis, this collegial feel makes her agency a friendly and comfortable place for her and other employees, where the leadership recognizes a good idea can from anyone – from interns to the CEO.

Company culture starts at the top, added Gabrielle Easley, an account executive at Taylor Strategy. The companies that have successfully developed a strong culture, as well as a diverse and inclusive workforce, are the ones who have senior leadership who value those traits.

Company culture and diversity initiatives were among the multitude of topics addressed by Curtis, Easley and other panelists invited to participate in an hourlong conversation in Turner Theatre and the subsequent networking reception hosted by the School of Communications.

Moderated by Donna Renella, president of ABW Solutions LLC, a recruitment and consulting firm, the discussion highlighted the panelists’ personal experiences and anecdotes, and participants shared advice on career advancement, salary negotiations and industry trends.

For a glimpse of the panel discussion and networking reception, visit the school’s Flickr gallery.

The panel was unanimous that the industry’s biggest areas of growth are social media, digital content and analytics. Yet, firms are always seeking strong writers, as well as team players.

How can a recent graduate or young professional make their resume stand out? Experience.

During the networking reception, Elon senior Madison Burress chats with Matt Ferguson, executive vice president and managing director of Mower.

“Internships in college are key,” said Megan Beatty, a human resources generalist at Taylor Strategy. Those making hiring decisions in the public relations industry are looking for prospective hires with two, three or four internships.

And once you receive a job offer, don’t settle for just any salary.

The first rule of negotiating? Don’t divulge your salary history. “It will lock you in for something lower” than you likely deserve, Beatty said. Plus, in some states it’s illegal to ask for a salary history, Renella pointed out.

“You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate,” Easley added.

While increasing the industry’s diversity to better represent today’s society continues to be an overarching objective, the consensus was there is much work to be done.

Beatty noted the importance of “allyship and advocacy” and how they are pivotal to creating change. “We need people of power supporting diversity,” she said. Beatty said she appreciates that a senior leader she knows won’t participate in a panel or event if it lacks diversity.

Matt Ferguson, executive vice president and managing director of Mower, noted that his firm regularly seeks out strong minor candidates. But those individuals are often the most sought after, and the competition among other firms can be fierce.

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Towanda Long, a senior marketing communications specialist with Charlotte Pipe & Foundry, a top maker of cast iron and plastic pipe and fittings, also joined the panel. She offered a unique perspective because her company is a client of Mower’s. Long said that she often relies on Mower and the relationships she has built through PRSA as a sounding board. This support has been invaluable considering she is one of just two individuals working on Charlotte Pipe’s communications team.

Jordan Kaye of W2O Group also served as a panelist during the discussion.

Prior to the evening event, the panelists broke into two groups and visited North Carolina A&T State University and North Carolina Central University, two historically black universities, to speak with students about working in the public relations industry.

The daylong program, both on and off campus, was presented by Elon’s M.A. in Interactive Media (iMedia) and M.S. in Management (MScM) graduate programs.