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A college degree is just a piece of paper to me. I worked hard and spent a lot of money on mine. But, it’s not what got me a job. Thousands of people who are without a job right now have that piece of paper…some are just more expensive or earned in different fields.

In order to be a marketable job candidate once you graduate, I believe you need to spend hours outside of the classroom to develop your real-world skills.

You need to make yourself stand out amongst thousands of potential job seekers. Leave your suggestions on standing out in the comments section. Here are my tips:

  • Workplace experience. Whether you volunteer, intern or freelance, you need experience with depth and breadth. This means extensive experience in one area is great, but you also should consider gaining experience in several different areas. The more time you spend working in the real world before you graduate, the better off you will be.
  • A strong network. I always found it annoying when people told me that I needed to “network” more. But, I’ve discovered that networking is definitely more about building professional relationships and getting to know people, not shaking hands and reading name tags at luncheon events.
  • Personality. Bosses hire people who they think they will like working with. I’ve known people who look perfect on paper…but they have the personality of a housefly. Don’t be afraid to be a real person.
  • Professionalism. You will be immediately judged on how you present yourself. I know flip flops have no affect on your skills, but it does put off an impression.
  • Confidence, not cockiness. Sure, you might know your stuff and its good to know it. But, you don’t want to come off as too cocky.
  • Know the strategy, not just the tool. Your clients won’t care that Twitter is cool. They need to know the strategy behind the tools and the potential ROI before they commit to it.
  • Demonstrate initiative. Do things just because you want to improve your skills. Go to conferences, watch webinars, write a blog and read books related to your career.

You don’t necessarily need a degree to get a job. You need skills. That piece of paper means nothing after you graduate if you don’t strive to make yourself better than the rest.

What would you suggest? What areas could entry-level employees improve upon?

Whenever someone asks what a normal day at an agency is like, I laugh. Normal?

Here’s an example: Your neat to-do list is on your desk and you’re checking things right off. By 4 p.m., you feel like you’ve had a productive day. All that’s left is a news release, some web copy to write and a few media calls to make.

You’re working away on the news release that has to go out before the end of the day and another client calls. They have a new project for you. Oh, and they needed it yesterday.

Meanwhile, an e-mail comes in about another client’s crisis situation and other e-mails trickle in about various other small projects that require intense research. These projects are due ASAP.

So what do you do?

Throw that to-do list out the window and make a new one. Prioritize what’s most important on that day and realize this is normal. You don’t get a syllabus, course outline or rubric in real life, especially if you want to work at an agency.

And, that’s why I was so drawn to working in an agency environment. Every day is different and your skills are challenged.

Here are a few tweets about working at an agency. What would you add?

@rebeccaodell Hectic and rewarding. Agencies move at a quick pace and give you an opp to work on various projects for varying clients.

@smt504 As an intern: It’s a fast-paced and fun learning experience. Be ready for anything and everything.

@achatel311 ever changing and keeps you on your toes. A strong team environment is vital for successful campaigns.

@Top_Drawer It’s like being inside a box but thinking outside of it!

@JasMollica My firm has been the most challenging and rewarding PR post I’ve held. Everyday is something different. Great learning exp.

I’m entering my second week in my new position of account executive and social media specialist at AGP & Associates

And, I love it.

I wish there were some magical formula to finding the perfect workplace, but there isn’t. In my experience, it is going with your “gut.”

But, there is more to it than that. What considerations should come into play when accepting a job offer? Here’s my thoughts:

My decision to accept a job at AGP was greatly influenced by the fact that I had been working here since September as an intern.

Tip 1: If possible, spend time working (or even volunteering) at the place you think you would like to end up. Not only will you learn about the kind of work you might be doing, but you will get to know the company culture. Additionally, your transition from intern to professional will be easier.

I also love mid-Michigan (hence the reason I freelance as the managing editor of Vision Mid Michigan). I’ve visited both Chicago and Washington, D.C. and knew immediately that I wasn’t a “city girl.” Columbus, Ohio wasn’t bad, but I still missed the Great Lakes State while I was away at Fahlgren Mortine.

Tip 2: Find a workplace near a place you want to live. You spend 40 to 50 hours at work, but you won’t be living there.

One of the really attractive benefits to working at AGP was the opportunities for growth, both within the company and for myself as a professional and person.

Tip 3: Opportunities for growth are extremely important and should be a key consideration when accepting a job.

I’m also excited that my new job challenges my skills and is requiring me to learn new things. I also have the opportunity to carve out my own niche in my newly created position at the agency.

Tip 4: Seek challenges and opportunities. You should never stop learning and growing.

What would you suggest to someone who is considering a job offer?

Accepting a job…in Michigan

April 26, 2010 12:05 pm | 11 Comments

Last summer, someone told me that I was “too talented to stay in Michigan.” At that time, I was seriously considering moving away after graduation. There are many reasons to leave…The economy. The crime rates in Detroit, Flint and Saginaw. The lack of jobs. The unbearably cold winters.

25 percent of young professionals plan to leave Michigan…

But, I recently made my final decision: I’m here to stay. I’ve accepted a job offer with AGP & Associates in Midland. I actually knew I would be receiving an offer after a discussion with the CEO last February, but I received the “official” offer last week.

In the past year, I’ve learned a lot of things about myself and this state. I discovered I am passionate about marketing communications, rather than just PR. I actually like B2B work (in the textbooks, it sounds incredibly dull). I prefer the culture of a small agency. And, I like…maybe even love…mid-Michigan.

I recently attended Future Midwest. I suggest my fellow Michigan college students and grads watch this video from the conference.

So, what are your post-grad plans and why? Where do you want to go? Or, why are you staying in your state?

Photo Credit: Esterline Photography

Featured Professional: Janet Aronica, Account Coordinator at Kel & Partners

How did you get your first full-time job?

It was hard work! I started my job search in November of my senior year.  I knew I wanted to move to Boston so I did a lot of research on the companies out here and I used to Twitter to make contacts at said companies.  In February, I came out did informational interviews. Pretty much everyone said they weren’t hiring.

Around that time I did an informational phone interview with my current boss, and we hit it off pretty good.  Again, she wasn’t hiring, but told me to get back in contact with her if I did move out here. One thing led to another, and she ended up having an opening for me a month later and I got this job.  Yay!

Basically, I was really persistent and I tried to keep my chin up no matter how many times people told me they had a hiring freeze.  I think what really worked for me was doing the internship at SHIFT after graduation.  It kept me in the PR “loop” and made me look more proactive to potential employers.

I don’t think more experience could ever hurt you when you are young and just starting out.  Doing an internship after graduation isn’t the most popular idea with people because there is definitely this expectation that you “have” to get a job.  But I would tell anyone that there is no shame in doing an internship and waiting tables the summer after you graduate until you hit your big break.

How long did it take to get your job from the time you graduated?

I started at Kel & Partners in August, so three months.

What has helped you stand out from other recent graduates? Did you have a strategy for this? How has social media helped your career?

I think that my involvement with social media helped me stand out from other candidates.  Twitter is awesome! It really helped me build a network in Boston while I was still living in Upstate, NY.  People always asked about my blog during interviews.

Social media also helped me at my last internship and at my current job because I think people recognized that I had a skill-set and an interest in that area, so I’ve been given fun and interesting projects that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work on if I didn’t know about social media.  I definitely had a strategy for this, and I based that strategy off of several bloggers and social media marketing pros that I look up to.  (Julia Roy, Sarah Evans and Julia Allison from Non Society have influenced me more than they know!)

What advice do you have for young PR pros?

Oh gosh, I’m still learning new things every day myself!  I guess it’s these four things:

1. Do internships in a lot of different areas. I did corporate, agency and nonprofit PR/marketing internships so I got a feel for a variety of stuff.  I would also say to really take a good hard look at yourself, think about which internship made you happiest, don’t deny it and find a job in that area. Don’t be afraid of what you really want.

2. Get involved in social media, without a doubt. Even if you see yourself working in the most traditional, old school, anti-Twitter industry – there is still value in growing your network and personal brand in social media.  It can definitely be intimidating at first, but you may find you have a strong interest in that area, after all.  I thought Twitter was dumb at first, but I gave it a solid chance for about a month and then I was hooked – and it’s turned out to be a great opportunity for me.

3. Have a question? Google it first! Try to fix it yourself. Want to know how to make a row in Excel? Google it. Want to know how to make a folder on the shared drive? Try a few things on your own, and then ask for help. As an intern and as an account coordinator, always try to be proactive and make your manager’s job easier by trying to manage yourself.

4. Don’t expect to have it all figured out by age 23. You’re gonna make mistakes and you’re gonna be confused sometimes, but that’s part of the excitement of your early twenties.  Work hard, learn all you can, make connections and don’t forget to have a blast while doing it.

About Janet

Janet is a self-proclaimed internet geek, marketing girl, and consummate creative-type living in Boston, MA. She is originally from Buffalo, NY, and received her B.A. in Communication/Journalism in May 2009 from St. John Fisher College.

Janet interned for at SHIFT Communications before landing her first “big kid job” as an account coordinator at Kel & Partners. Her passions include fitness and writing. She indulges both passions over at her blog, Social Health Nut.

Connect with her on Twitter @janetaronica or shoot her an e-mail at janetaronica [at] gmail.com.

As part of my integrated marketing communications independent study, I am reading and writing about case studies. See the other cases I’ve written about, including The Heart Truth and Thrivent’s Retirement Campaign. The cases are from the textbook, Public Relations Cases,  written by Hendrix and Hayes. This case was shorter than the other two, so this post will be shorter as well.

“Rediscovering Kansas City’s ‘Cowtown'”
KC Area Development Council (Bayer Animal Health with Fleishman-Hillard, Inc.)

Kansas City wanted to be a recognized leader in science and technology, but felt held back by its “Cowtown” nickname. With potential to grow in the animal health and nutrition sector, KC Development Council and Fleishman-Hillard worked together to redefine the city’s image and brand.

Quick details

  • Research showed that Kansas City was a great place for the fast-growing animal health industry to call home.
  • In addition to media coverage, influencing policies and legislation were considered as part of the strategy.
  • Bayer Animal Health was a key player.

To help attract companies focusing on animal health, they created the Animal Health Corridor (there is a video here about it). There are many benefits to animal health companies who become a part of this corridor, such as research collaboration and legislative advocacy.

The site linked above was launched as part of this campaign to help with branding and recruitment. A network related to the corridor also was created, and ambassadors advocated for the industry and attended meetings/trade shows.  This also helped with recruiting companies to move to the Kansas City region.

Meetings with leaders, press tours and media pitching helped gain coverage and community support was garnered with meetings and involvement with leaders and organizations.

Quick results

  • 80 million media impressions
  • Companies interested in relocated to the corridor increased 125 percent
  • Within articles about the corridor, Bayer Animal health was cited as an initiative leader

My thoughts

This case was much different than the other two I read. Rather than focusing on consumers, this case focused more on businesses. Therefore, it required a different approach.

I believe their Web site is effective. The first thing you really see is their video about the corridor. But, even if you don’t watch it, you still get the message through the banners on the page. The banners tell which top-tier veterinary schools are nearby, the number of livestock produced in the area, how many animal health companies are head quartered there, and more. As a site visitor, you get the message that Kansas City knows animal health.

I didn’t see much in terms of social media, but they do encourage you to connect via their LinkedIn Group. The group currently has 130 members, which doesn’t sound like a lot but I think in terms of this industry, it is probably great.

Their annual homecoming event is listed on the Web site and I thought it was really interesting to see that John Grogan, a CMU alumnus, was their celebrity speaker. It’s a great idea to have animal health industry CEOs and other leaders gather at a conference right in the corridor.

On the site, there is an archive of news and a newsletter that is available.

I don’t know if they already do this, but I would suggest permission marketing. By reaching out the leaders in the animal health industry, they could keep these people informed about legislation, potential issues, research and more, demonstrating through leadership and credibility. This could be effective in reaching audiences that know about the corridor, but have businesses elsewhere. If a company is looking to set up another location, the corridor will be in the forefront of their mind.

Guest Post by Hannah DeMilta

There are several upcoming conferences for students and professionals this spring season. At Otterbein College we are excited to be hosting PaRtners Conference on April 24th. This year’s theme is the PR Olympics and registration is open to all students online now. I’ve attended several similar conferences as an undergraduate and wanted to share some of my experiences and ideas of how to get the most from these events. (Sign up here for the PaRtners Conference)

Step One: Check registration options. Making the decision to register early is always smart so you can save on costs. Also, plan ahead and take advantage of group rates if they are offered. If you are really looking to cut costs see if they offer an option to volunteer for free or reduced registration. If they don’t have a student registration rate listed, don’t be afraid to ask. It might pay off in the end. PaRtners Conference early registration has passed but you do save $10 by registering before, avoid paying at the door.

Step Two: Do you your homework. Are the speakers and session topics listed online? Do you know the city or region where the event is being hosted? Are there are other networking opportunities or tweet ups being planned in conjunction with the conference? Check out both the official website for some facts, but also listen to others attendees. You can read the session descriptions and speaker bios for PaRtners Conference online here. We also encourage attendees to hang out with us at the un-official Old Bag mixer after the conference.

Step Three: Have a game plan. Know what sessions you want to attend and who you want to meet. This is especially important at larger conferences but it doesn’t hurt for the small ones as well. I can almost guarantee this will change once you arrive but it doesn’t hurt. I used this mentality this past month when attending SXSW interactive in Austin. I had a plan but was flexible and open to change.

Step Four: Set up your own opportunities. If you are traveling somewhere out of your normal network take the opportunity to network outside of just the planned conference activities. Set up meetings or tours. If you are with a PRSSA group, perhaps take an agency tour or meet with local alum in that area. There are some great places to visit in Columbus, if you want more information or need recommendations please let us know.

Step Five: Network online. Thanks to social media there are many opportunities to network with presenters and other attendees before you even arrive at the conference. For PaRtners Conference we created a Twitter list of all organizers, speakers and registered attendees to help you find people. Begin to build relationships and gain name recognition beforehand. It will be way more beneficial when you’re trying to network in person at the event.

I hope that you have fun at any conference you may attend this spring and of course encourage you to consider visiting us in Columbus for PaRtenrs Conference. Follow the conversation on Twitter: #ocpartners

Sign up here: http://centralohiopartners.eventbrite.com/

Hannah DeMilta is the site manager at SportsNetworker.com and a senior public relations major at Otterbein College. She is serving as the Director of Programs for PaRtners Conference. Please feel free to email Hannah.DeMilta [at] otterbein.edu or connect via Twitter @HannahDeMilta

As part of my integrated marketing communications independent study, I am reading and writing about case studies. See the first one, The Heart Truth. The cases are from the textbook, Public Relations Cases,  written by Hendrix and Hayes. These posts are unfortunately long…

“Thrivent Financial Helps Its Members Thrive in Retirement”
Thrivent Financial for Lutherans with OLSON & Company

According to the situation analysis, Thrivent had exceptional scores from members for its integrity, spirit and values (media coverage was primarily about their charitable efforts). But, the organization scored low on product performance and customer service. OLSON & Company worked to build awareness of Thrivent’s expertise and drive people to their online retirement tool called ThriveQ.

Quick details

  • Researched perceptions and awareness before and after the campaign
  • Tested campaign messages with focus groups
  • Did recon on the competition
  • Targeted employees, financial representatives, members and prospective members, and the media

Through their research, they found out a few interesting things. It was obvious that people were not confident in the organization’s abilities, but they also found that their competitors spent up to 38 times more on advertising.

This campaign was separated into two different phases. The first phase focused on reaching audiences through media and using the media to showcase Thrivent as an expert in retirement planning. The second phase focused on the launch and promotion of ThriveQ.

OLSON & Company described the first phase as using a “multilayered media mix.” This included:

  • Displays and graphics in the lobby
  • Skyway and elevator displays
  • Floor graphics
  • Table tents
  • Booklets
  • Paid advertising
  • Light projected images
  • Billboards
  • Ceiling banners, column wraps and window clings in the local airport

Tool kits were created to include a booklet and video, business card holders, posters, window clings, quarter stickers and bumper stickers. These were distributed to 2,500 financial reps.

One of the very interesting aspects of this campaign was the street team that dropped branded quarters, with their Web address and a short message. The team scattered 5,000 of these quarters in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Not only did people walking down the street notice these, but it gained media coverage.

Coverage was gained in AARP Magazine and The Wall Street Journal after they surveyed baby boomers about retirement and distributed results through press kits.

To get more attention from of the media, the top 75 contacts received a tropical shirt with the clever tagline, “There’s more to retirement than wearing a tropical shirt.”

In Phase 2, ThriveQ was launched. They also partnered with a retirement think tank to increase credibility. Awareness was created for their new online tool with a satellite media tour, multimedia news release, audio news release, electronic media kit, byline articles, billboards, light-rail train wrap, bus wraps, advertising in the airport, and print advertising.

Quick results

  • More than 160 million media impressions
  • 1.73 million paid media impressions
  • Higher brand equity, according to research
  • 22 million impressions related to the online tool
  • Close to 90,000 visits to the online tool in six months

My thoughts

OLSON & Company did a lot of great things for Thrivent. My initial thought was that the audience might be “too old” for an online tool. But, people who are planning for their retirement might just be middle-aged. The bus wrap was a very interesting tactic (picture available in the book). I like how it asks if you will have the retirement you are envisioning, and there are pictures of retirees doing activities like fishing.

One of the things I’m learning about IMC is to think outside the box. You don’t have to do the typical press release. You can find other ways to reach your audience. The street team, the projected images, and the tropical shirt were ways to get attention. Check out images of the work done by OLSON & Company here.

It’s hard to offer ways for this campaign to be improved. While social media wouldn’t have been the most important aspect, many middle-aged people are joining Facebook. I believe a Facebook fan page, maybe for ThriveQ, could be useful for sharing retirement and financial tips to these people. A blog also could be used to write about retirement planning. Through good content and SEO/SEM, Thrivent could become a top search results for this topic.

With impending graduation, I wanted to share my list of the top gifts to buy new college grads who are going into public relations or marketing communications. These are just my suggestions, but I’d love to see yours in the comments section.


  1. The Art of Client Service
  2. Pitch Like a Girl (useful for both girls and guys)
  3. The New Rules of Marketing and PR
  4. For Girls: The Go-Getter Girl’s Guide
  5. PR Week subscription

Professional Life Items

  1. Samsonite Travel Dual Voltage Garment Steamer
  2. Mini Travel Lint Rollers (even if you don’t have pets!)
  3. PRSA Membership
  4. Padfolio
  5. Post-it® Notes (simple, but useful in so many ways)


  1. Adobe Creative Suite 4 (be sure to purchase while you can still get the more affordable student edition!)
  2. Flip Cam
  3. E-Reader, like the Kindle
  4. Wireless Presenter
  5. Bluetooth Headset

Reader Additions

  1. AP Stylebook (or the online subscription) – suggested by Raquel Gonzalez
  2. iPhone (or other smartphone) – suggested by Mikinzie Stuart
  3. Starbucks gift card to “allow a student to build meaningful relationships over coffee with at least 10 experienced professionals” – suggested by Mike Pilarz
  4. Gift card for a domain registration and hosting company and a Thesis license for bloggers – suggested by Mike Pilarz
  5. Books: The Elements of Style and Talent Is Overrated – suggested by Mike Pilarz

What’s on your gift list as a soon-to-be college grad, or what did you realize you needed after you graduated?

Relocating To Launch Your Career

March 29, 2010 12:20 pm | No Comments

I recently wrote a freelance article for Young Money Magazine. Here’s the introduction. To read the entire article, go to Young Money.

Finding even an entry-level job can be a daunting task for soon-to-be college grads. With poor local economies, many must consider relocating in order to find a job.

“Most people don’t find jobs in their ‘comfort zones,” said Heather Huhman, entry-level career expert and author of Relocating for an Entry Level Job.
These zones might include the towns they grew up in, where they went to college or where their significant other lives.
“Don’t go months, or longer, without a job because you are unwilling to move away from friends and family,” she said.
According to U.S. News, 18.2 percent of job seekers relocate for a job.

Read the rest of this article on Young Money.


Rachel M. Esterline works in public relations and marketing communications. Her blog, ExPRessions, contains her musings about PR, marketing, career and professional development, Gen Y issues, personal branding and more. Rachel also does freelance consulting and writing. She is originally from Genesee, Mich., and will graduate from Central Michigan University in May 2010.