The eight-week summer program was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and provided aspiring public relations professionals with access to top agency executives and webinars on strategic planning, data, social media strategy and crisis communications.
After finding out that her summer internship in New York City was canceled, Amanda Willingham ’21 regrouped and sought a way to continue building her skills and strengthening her professional network. The strategic communications and international & global studies double major found what she was looking for in the PR Council’s Agency-Ready Certificate Program, a pilot program created to help college students and recent graduates prepare to enter the industry.
Willingham was one of 21 Elon University students and young alumni to complete the eight-week program this summer that included more than 40 live sessions and 20 recorded chats. In total, nearly 1,900 aspiring PR professionals completed the program nationwide.
The Elon senior commended the PR Council for its quick action in response to a summer marked by rescinded job offers, negated internships and canceled study abroad programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is amazing that the PR Council was able to put together such a comprehensive program for up-and-coming talent so quickly,” Willingham said. “I was lucky to learn from thought-provoking industry leaders who challenged me to leverage my passions and strengths. Some of my favorite sessions were storytelling, marketing to Gen Z, social listening, and D&I in the industry. I have made lasting connections and gained insights that I will carry with me throughout my career and in my personal life.”
The certificate program included live and recorded webinars on important topics such as strategic counsel, client service, persuasive writing, applying data, social media strategy and crisis communications. There was also instruction on technology platforms utilized by agencies, as well as conversations with agency leaders and entry-level talent to prepare incoming professionals.
Recent Elon graduate Kelly Valerio ’20 has a similar story to Willingham, having landed a full-time job in corporate communications after graduation, only to lose it due to the pandemic. While networking for a new position, Valerio heard about the certificate program and decided to participate.
“I participated in order to grow my public relations skills and hear from different agency perspectives,” she said. “I learned a lot about the industry and the growth of influencer marketing.”
Good news soon followed and Valerio landed an internship offer with Citizen Relations, an integrated communications agency with offices in New York City.
Kendall Battles ’23, a media analytics major, has a few years before she seeks full-time employment, but she saw the certificate program as an opportunity to educate herself, learning what she can expect working in the public relations industry.
“I was able to hear from professionals in all different areas of PR about what their experiences have been like and the different tools and skills they suggest gaining to succeed in the field,” Battles said. “Additionally, the PR Council had a diverse range of speakers that could express their perspectives as well.”
Willingham looks forward to implementing what she learned in the program on campus, where she is involved with Unity in Communications and Campus Recreation & Wellness and leads the program’s communication and graphic design efforts. Additionally, she currently has a brand strategy internship with Evoke, a global health and wellness communications agency. In her role, Willingham is collaborating with planners and strategists as well as the creative team to interpret consumer research and develop insights for the brand positioning of a new pharmaceutical product.
Elon participants who earned a certificate
About the PR Council
The PR Council is the U.S. trade association representing 110 of the country’s top PR agencies. The organization’s mission is to help grow talent, revenue, profits and reputation for member agencies, and the industry.