Top lessons from the 2017 IABC Heritage Region Student Conference

by Intern, on Dec 14, 2017

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the IABC Heritage Region Student Conference. The speakers covered a variety of topics to help me understand why I've made certain decisions so far in my life and how I can apply all that I’ve learned to the work world.


It can take years of trial and error to find out who you really are. When I was little, I dreamed of being a veterinarian, but here I am now as a college senior, majoring in public relations at Slippery Rock University. So, what changed? I did.

The real-world experience that the workplace provides enhances our skills so we can make an informed career decision. I learned that as much as I love animals, a medical field was not for me. My eagerness to make a difference still pushed me to pursue a career where I’d have the ability to do so via storytelling and working with the media. The IABC speakers explained how to stand out using skills like crisis management and how networking can positively impact your life and the world.

Standing out

Differentiate yourself from the crowd.

Steve Radick, VP of Brunner, and Paul Furiga, CEO of WordWrite Communications, both 

explained the importance of differentiating yourself from the crowd. There is no other person with the same unique qualities and skills as you. You are your own brand that you’re trying to market to potential employers, so it is up to you to make sure these professionals see your value.

Paul explained how instead of focusing on asking for a job right away, you should engage in a casual conversation about the industry. Be sure to also ask “how” questions. This is the equivalent of asking the professional’s opinion, allowing your contact to be the expert. These questions give you the opportunity to add your own opinion and ideas to the conversation so you can stand out.

Instead of immediately asking an employer if they’re hiring, send a message and connect with them on LinkedIn. If you enjoyed a recent blog post of theirs, include that in the message! For example, you can say,

“Hello Ms. Rectenwald. I read your blog post about how to share your nonprofit’s story with the media and loved it! How did you become involved with nonprofit PR?”

This not only compliments another professional’s work, but includes a “how” question to start a conversation with the connection.

During the session, Steve asked, “What makes you, you? What makes you different from everyone else out there? As I tell my clients, sometimes different is better than better."

It finally occurred to me that not only will my competition have a degree, they’ll also have extra-curricular activities, job experience and professional recommendations—so how can I prove to a potential employer that I’m different? By proving that I’m different from the other candidates.

Steve shared a story of how he interviewed one intern candidate that had “Student Jeopardy” on his resume. Did this have anything to do with public relations, marketing or advertising? No, but this told Steve about the interviewee’s interests. How many of you can say you were on “Student Jeopardy?” It’s a conversation starter, and from there can help the employer determine whether you’ll fit into the office culture.

When asked, “If you were only given 140-characters or less to differentiate yourself from everyone else, what would you say?”, I was completely puzzled. I had never thought about something like this before. What do I value? How could I possibly narrow down all these little facts about me to 140-characters? (And yes, I know, Twitter now offers 280-characters, but let’s pretend you still had to keep to 140.) Remember, less is more when it comes to social media.

Crisis Communications

Once you get that job that you’re absolutely in love with, you’ll have to learn to adapt to obstacles that come your way. For PR, you never know when a crisis will occur.

According to Dianne Chase, IABC International chair, there are 10 types of crises. These include industrial, criminal, environmental, financial, regulatory, legislative, natural, product, labor and corporate. One type of crisis can overlap with another at any point, possibly leading to multiple crises at one time. PR professionals must be flexible to cope with challenging circumstances. There are definitely a lot of different variables to juggle, but that’s the joy of PR.

When handling multiple crises, it's important to inform the employees first to make sure everyone stays updated. My guess was that the first step to handling a crisis is to make a statement and include an apology – wrong. As it turns out, employee relations come first. In PR, your staff is more than your team; they’re your family. You don’t let family handle a crisis alone, or even worse, find out via the news or social media. Everyone must be on the same page so you can work together to find a solution.

The importance of networking

Finding employment today is harder than ever. To get a job, you don’t just submit a resume online anymore; social media now allows us to build relationships with people who can connect you to where you need to be, all with the swipe of a finger.

Paul discussed that while networking should start out on social media, it still ends up being face-to-face. Be sure to ask open-ended questions – “yes” or “no” answers shorten your meeting with someone who could change your career.

Paul shared that, “When trying to stand out, keep the focus solely on letting the employer learn about you. Don’t ask for a job because, psychologically, it can frighten the potential employer away.” It’s kind of like when asking someone on a date – come on too strong, the relationship is ruined before it even had a chance.

Steve also added that students should be branching out and contacting different employers now. The first time you connect with someone shouldn’t be to ask for a job – make conversation. Build a relationship. Let future employers learn who you are before you apply for a full-time job. One connection could lead to another that could in turn lead you down a path you never even thought of.

Paul and Steve’s presentations provided my peers and me with invaluable advice for taking our first steps towards the real world, while Dianna taught me how to handle any crisis. Her tips can be utilized to assist with any situation that I might face in the future, either in my career or even in my personal life. I know planning ahead can be stressful, but the IABC Conference taught me that you can have control over your life and your future.

Now, are you ready to read my resume-tweet? “In the past ten years, Nicole has seen over five countries, rescued 16 animals and moved six hours away for school.”

Can you describe yourself in 140 characters or less? Comment below.


Topics:internscommunication lessonspublic relations internshipmarketing lessons
Nicole Gittman


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