Dos and Don’ts of Summer Internships

Internships are a crucial part of your academic career, especially for PR students. Paving the way for future opportunities and providing hands-on experience, an internship is the best way to prepare for life after graduation. Like many college students, I’m spending the summer at the office instead of the beach–but it’s worth it! In my first month at The Zimmerman Agency, a nationally recognized full-service firm, I’ve gained more knowledge than coursework could ever provide. While I still have a lot to learn, I’ve compiled six tips that are sure to lead to success.

Do get to know the other interns
Not only are other interns great resources for questions about assignments or tricky media databases, but forming friendships make work fun! Plus, relationships are everything in PR. You may not realize it now, but your fellow interns will soon be your colleagues. Whether they know a journalist you need to pitch or work in a sector you’re curious about, these professional relationships will prove to be beneficial.

Don’t wait around for an assignment
Finished the day’s to-do list? Instead of waiting for another assignment while scrolling through Twitter, ask around the office for additional work. Volunteer for everything–even mundane tasks like sifting through magazines or organizing paperwork. Showing initiative not only builds trust, but proves you can meet the demands of a full-time job.

Do keep an intern journal
After work, I like to reflect on the projects I worked on by jotting down a few notes. Recording day-to-day activities will come in handy when updating your resume, and the journal is a helpful tool for job interview prep. I include critiques, like breaking an AP Style golden rule, to ensure I don’t make the same mistake.

Don’t leave without checking in with your team
It’s 4:59 on a Friday and Happy Hour awaits. But don’t rush out of the door before asking your supervisors if they need help with anything. Side note: never go home without completing your to-do list, even if you have to stay a bit later. Treat your internship like a full-time job, and it could turn into one!

Do research your clients
Know everything there is to know about the accounts you work on–follow their social media, set up Google Alerts and familiarize yourself with their website. Not only will this help you discover the clients’ needs, but full-service agencies like Zimmerman also handle social media and web design, so it’s a great way to see what the firm is doing. You should also research the agency’s other clients, even if you don’t directly work on those.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions
If an email pitch leaves you stumped or you’re confused about a project, ask! It’s better to seek clarification early than mess up later on, especially when the deadline is looming. That being said, exhaust all resources before going to your supervisor. Ask another intern or do a quick Google search – let your problem-solving skills shine! Kate Finley, CEO of Belle Communications, puts it perfectly: “Be quick to think and slow to ask.”

What are your tips for summer interns? Let me know in the comments!

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5 Tips for a Stellar Phone Interview

It’s the middle of March, and thousands of public relations students across the globe are scouring job boards to secure the coveted summer internship.

Internships are competitive, especially those in big cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston. Agencies and companies alike use phone interviews to ‘pre-screen’ candidates through Human Resources.

Phone interviews are a lot different than in-person interviews, so many don’t know how to prepare. Lucky for you, I compiled 5 tips to ace your interview.

1. Do your research

Important for every type of interview, this tip should go without saying. In the week before your interview, find out everything you can about the company. What is their mission and values? Who are their clients? What campaigns or projects are they currently working on? You’ll likely be asked why you want to work for the company and why they should hire you. By familiarizing yourself with the company, you’ll be able to make your responses more relevant.

Equally important to researching the company is researching your interviewer. Do your best to find out this person’s name in advance. Usually this information is included in your invitation to interview. If it’s not, call or email the Human Resources team and find out. Then, look up your interviewer online. A basic Google search provides you with blogs, publications and social media accounts. LinkedIn is a great tool to research background information, like education and previous work experience.

Finally, use your research to prepare questions. Ask about current clients, reference the interviewer’s history with the company, etc. Make a list of five strong questions for your interviewer. You may not use all of them, but you’ll be prepared.

2. Make a cheat sheet

Think of a phone interview like an open-book test–all of the information you need is at your fingertips. Tape your resume and cover letter to the wall (to avoid papers rustling) for easy access during the interview. Make a cheat sheet with background information on the company and the job description to reference throughout your answers.

3. Practice, practice, practice

‘Practice makes perfect’ is a cheesy cliche, but in the case of interviews it’s 100 percent true. Prepare your answers to common phone-screen questions. Then, have a friend or family member call you to mimic the interview experience. Start practicing a week in advance!

4. Find a quiet space and a working phone

When it comes time for the interview, be sure to control your environment. Find a quiet space with no distractions and set up your station–water, cheat sheet, resume/cover letter. If possible, use a landline to avoid shaky cell phone reception. If you must use your cell, make sure it’s fully charged.

5. Dress up and stand up

Even though the interviewer can’t see you, dressing well enhances your performance. Promise. Imagine how you feel lounging on the couch in sweatpants–comfy, sure, but professional? Dressing like you would for a face-to-face interview will naturally add professionalism to your answers. Also, stand up! While sprawling out on your cozy bed is tempting, standing up and walking around enhances the projection and quality of your voice.

Bonus: Follow Up!

The bonus (and most important) tip is what sets you apart from other candidates. In the next 24-48 hours, follow up with your interviewer! I like to send him/her a quick email the same day as the interview and mail a handwritten thank you note the next day. This shows that you genuinely want the internship and value the interviewer’s time. Try to mention something specific that you talked about during the interview and reiterate how much you want the job.

Did I miss anything? If you have additional phone interview advice, please comment with your thoughts!

3 Reasons Why Your Brand Needs Snapchat

What if I told you there was a way to not only reach the hard-to-impress demographic of 18-34 year olds, but capture their attention?

You’ve probably heard of Snapchat, the social media app popular for sharing pictures and videos that disappear after a few seconds. What most people don’t realize, however, is that Snapchat is a crucial part of any public relations campaign. I’ve gathered three reasons that explain what Snapchat is, and why your brand needs it.

1. Snapchat reaches a sought-after demographic

It’s no secret that millennials are hard to reach and even harder to impress. That’s where Snapchat comes in. The fastest-growing social media platform in 2015, Snapchat offers a way for brands to interact with its 200 million active users. My generation has grown increasingly weary toward traditional advertising. We’re experts when it comes to ignoring sales pitches that don’t directly appeal to our interests. By heavily emphasizing narratives, Snapchat provides a way for brands to connect with consumers in a personal, informal way. Its casual nature makes brands seem like a friend rather than a company.

Photo by CivicScience

2. Snapchat commands attention 

Rather than mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or Facebook feeds, Snapchat requires users to stop what they’re doing and focus. The app dismisses distraction by creating a sense of urgency. Snaps aren’t there forever–senders choose the message length, but it’s never more than 10 seconds long. This leads the receiver to pay close attention, because the message will soon disappear. Alternatively, the “Stories” feature allows the ability to create longer narratives (up to 200 seconds) that disappear after 24 hours. Brands can use Snapchat to ensure that their message is not only received, but remembered. “By providing content with a limited lifespan, it combines the appointment-viewing value of sports with the engagement of social media,” explains blogger Jeff Beer. In other words, users give Snapchat their undivided attention.

3. Snapchat adds value to existing social media content

Many brands on other social media channels such as Twitter and Instagram use Snapchat to enhance their marketing campaigns. For example, McDonald’s offers a behind-the-scenes look at commercials featuring popular athletes like LeBron James and Richard Sherman, while Allure magazine entices users with exclusive giveaways.

Snapchat’s new “Discover” feature is another opportunity for brands to connect with their audiences. 60 percent of Snapchat users access the app daily, proving the importance of constantly generating  content. News sources like Cosmopolitan, CNN, ESPN and People Magazine use Discover to post news articles, videos and pictures. Like the Stories feature, content is refreshed in 24-hour increments. It’s a great way for brands to not only stay relevant, but keep users coming back for more with the promise of new information daily. Plus, it’s not just for news outlets. BMW, Ritz Crackers and T-Mobile are just some of the brands that advertise on Snapchat Discover.

Taco Bell uses Snapchat to promote new menu items

What are some other reasons brands should use Snapchat? Let me know in the comments.

A Valuable Lesson in Crisis Communication

Last night, I had the pleasure to hear Dr. Mary Coburn, Florida State University’s Vice President of Student Affairs, speak about crisis communication at the FPRA student chapter meeting.

Dr. Coburn detailed her involvement in the aftermath of the Nov. 20 shooting at Strozier Library on FSU’s campus. The shooter, an FSU alum, wounded three students.

Coburn shared the six crucial elements of crisis communication. Though her list is focused on campus emergencies, its contents are important considerations for any crisis.

  1. Have a system in place–and practice regularly
    • According to Dr. Coburn, the FSU Police Department had an active shooter drill just two weeks prior to the shooting. The FSUPD were prepared and able to secure the situation just four minutes after notification.
  2. Emergency notices are vital
    • All employees and affected publics must be informed immediately. FSU’s emergency notification system informed 69,000 individuals about the situation within 30 minutes.
  3. Continuously update community stakeholders
    • Though the shooting took place on campus, Dr. Coburn explained the importance of informing the Tallahassee community about the event. Nearby ministries, schools and Leon County citizens were frequently updated throughout the following weeks.
  4. Be open and accessible to the press
    • When it comes to the media, transparency is key.
  5. Follow-up with affected parties
    • First, Dr. Coburn ensured that FSU’s students were aware of the coping resources available. Immediately after the shooting was resolved, she emailed University staff to detail her expectations for the days following the event. For example, she required trained professionals, rather than student workers, to answer FSU phone lines to ensure callers received clear, correct information.
  6. Evaluate and update systems
    • Evaluation is perhaps the most important part of a crisis communications plan, according to Dr. Coburn. She assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the University’s response and made necessary changes to the current crisis plan.

The evening was moving, and the fear and sadness I felt in the aftermath of the shooting came rushing back during Dr. Coburn’s speech. Most importantly, however, I was reminded of the strength and capability of FSU’s student body, faculty and police department.

I am proud to be #FSUnited

Welcome!

I’ve been talking about blogging for months now, so this post is long overdue. As an aspiring communications professional, visibility and expertise are important factors in both securing a job and earning clients’ trust. This blog will detail my views on trends and issues in public relations, as well as provide an outlet to communicate with fellow PR professionals.

But first, a little bit about me. Like many of my peers, my career interests were fickle growing up. Medicine, law, acting and psychology are just some of the areas that sparked my interest. Despite my changing goals and desires, three things have remained stagnant throughout my 20 years of living:

  1. My love of reading
  2. My desire to write
  3. My passion for music and entertainment

Lucky for me, my budding career in PR combines all three of my favorite things. I’m not sure where I’ll be after I graduate next year, but one thing’s for sure: I’ll be reading, writing and practicing PR in the entertainment industry.

One of my favorite things about the communications industry is how much people love to, well, communicate. I’m always open to chatting with other students and professionals about PR, books, the media and more. Feel free to shoot me an email at briannashoaf@gmail.com or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thanks for checking out my blog. Until next time!

-Brianna