Reverb is a 31 day writing exercise where daily prompts allow people to reflect on closing the year and planning the one to come.  

[Help:  Did someone ask you for help and how did it play out?]

I’ve had the opportunity to connect with a number of students and young pros about breaking into the PR industry and working their way up. I always say I may only be a few steps ahead, but I’m happy to share the knowledge that I’ve picked up along the way. 

People reach out to me through Twitter, blogging, my Alma Mater and friends of friends. I’m willing to put in the time to help people because of the all the mentors that have given me their time. The PR industry is definitely of the “pay it forward” mindset. 

Throughout the calls and emails I’m often left feeling that I wish I could do more. When I’d end a phone call I would wonder, did I do enough? Anyone that knows me knows that I can talk. Because of that I’d invite the person to review their notes from the call and to come back with follow up questions. I was open to an ongoing dialogue, which didn’t always happen. 

Enter Payal Shukla. We connected via social media about our love for the Illini and public relations. She eagerly accepted my offer for a guest blog post and we started having regular phone calls. 

I’m honored to be your mentor, Payal. Our chats help me to reflect on my experiences, learning more about the industry and myself in the process. It’s flattering to know my advice resonated with you to incorporate it into your job pursuits. Your interest in my work keeps me motivated – to be the best professional I can be and to maintain my “student always” mentality. Can’t wait to see what’s next for you. 

What makes a stellar mentee? Ambition, interest, hard work and the ability to take constructive criticism. 

How has being a mentor helped you? What have you gained as a mentee? 


Reading PR

Meet Payal Shukla, a student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring PR professional. During our first call I kept thinking to myself, ‘She is only asking the right questions.’ I’m excited to see what lies ahead in her PR career and honored she is sharing her thoughts here. Catch Payal tweeting as @payalshukla and learn more at her personal site.

“What do you read?” My advisor asked me.

“What do I… read?” I asked. Is this a trick question? I read… of course I read! I’m a collegiate, I thought.

“I am curious to know,” he explained. “What sorts of things do public relations professionals read?”

One week later I wound find the same question popping up in a blog post re-tweeted by Travis Kessel, a recruiter for Edelman-Chicago.

“Real-life interview questions used at Edelman,” he wrote of a video featuring Senior Vice President Phil Gomes.

Needless to say, the one question Gomes always is sure to ask: “What do you read?”

Why is it important to read up on your field? Obviously, you now know it is something interviewers are likely to ask of you (if you didn’t know already).

More importantly, reading books, news sites and blogs demonstrates a thorough understanding of PR. In other words, where did your field start, where is it now and where is it going? Not to mention that it is probably one of the easiest ways to begin developing a level of expertise that goes beyond just gaining experience! The lessons you can learn from autobiographies and memoirs can serve as guide to making the right career choices and breaking into public relations.

I personally believe “reading PR” encourages critical thinking and personal reflection – both of which will only make you grow more as a professional. Materials and information you gather can be applied to your current professional endeavors.

For example, by reading blog posts on building a social media platform, and engaging with authors for their tips, I was able to turn the lessons I learned into ideas I pitched to my supervisor. I got the best of both worlds – knowledge on an essential PR tool and a more fulfilling internship experience.

Obviously, I can’t write about reading PR sources without mentioning a few of my favorites. My go-to blogs include PR Breakfast Club and the Bad Pitch Blog. Both are hilarious, insightful and interactive with their readerships. For to-the-minute news, I turn to Publicity News and PR Week US.

As for books, I am currently working my way through Ronn Torossian’s list of “10 Must-Read Public Relations and Marketing Books.” My favorites so far include “Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin and “Crystallizing Public Opinion” by Edward L. Bernays.

So to answer my advisor, “What do I read? Anything I can get my hands on.”

Checking In @ My Alma Mater

Last week I spent time at my old stomping grounds – the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I was invited to speak at the Public Relations Association (PRA) meeting and an Intro to PR course. PRA is a student organization I joined as an undergrad and is similar to PRSSA on a college campus. This group provides students with real PR experience through work with local businesses and other promotional events.

Every month I speak to a handful of students by phone and email about getting into PR. I meet students through my alma mater, friends of friends,, LinkedIn and Twitter. I’ve been so fortunate to learn from professionals in the industry and while I may only be a few steps ahead of them I have learned so much in the last two years I want to share with students.

I discussed my background and how I found my way into PR. I highlighted top books, including Jenny Blake’s Life After College and Jessica Kleiman and Meryl Weinsaft Cooper’s Be Your Own Best Publicist. I have to send big thanks to these friends who provided content/insights for my presentation: Britten Wolf, Justin Goldsborough, Lauren Gray, Mikinzie Stuart, Christa Marzan, Kimberly Lucio and Jackie Lampugnano. I focused on the importance of Twitter and recommended participating in the following conversations: #HAPPO, #pr20chat, #PRStudChat, #u30pro, #journchat and #jobhuntchat.

While on campus I also caught up with the university’s spokesperson, Robin Kaler, and the College of Media Dean, Jan Slater. These professionals are great examples of wanting to share their knowledge.  I reached out to Robin senior year because I wanted to learn about what she did in the Public Affairs office. Every time I’ve been back on campus she has always made time to meet amidst a hectic schedule. Jan invites alums to visit while on campus and I knew I definitely would be taking her up on that offer.

The best news? Jan invited me to join the Advisory Board for creating a public relations certificate!! At Illinois students have had to look for PR exposure through organizations like PRA and a minimal course list… until now. Students will now have the opportunity to learn about PR in the classroom taking that knowledge to their internships and student organizations. And hopefully demand will turn this certificate into a minor. I am thrilled for this opportunity and cannot wait to see what’s next.

Have you connected with your alma mater? If not, why not reach out? If you’re a student what are you looking for from professionals?


This student always said ‘Peace out states’

Meet my friend Sarah. As seen on CNN Money. Yep, she’s that cool. Sarah wasn’t finding a teaching position in the U.S. so what did she do? She said ‘Peace out states’ and headed to a country where she knew one person. Hello bravery!

Sarah will be teaching literature in Kuwait for a two-year commitment. She’s someone we always knew would find her way to a teaching opportunity abroad – she lives for new cultures, people and experiences. And because of that I consider her a “student always.”

What I’ve learned from Sarah:

  • You can’t let the situation define you. If life isn’t playing out as you had hoped, don’t give in. Create the situation you imagined.
  • Technology takes away the distance. (Through Facebook, email and text messages I feel like we’ve talked our standard amount for the last week.)
  • Jump into the unknown. Forget a comfort zone. Your experience and confidence in your abilities will help you land on your feet.

I’m excited to follow Sarah’s adventure over the next two years and looking forward to sharing a guest post from her soon.

What have you learned from time abroad? Could you pick up and move to another country like this fearless gal?


Smitten by Friends

Smitten was the word I used to describe the way I felt after my reunion with my college roommates. With four different schedules we always intend to see each other, but that is far easier said than down. When one of our foursome said she’d be leaving us for a teaching opportunity in Kuwait we didn’t waste any time before plans were made.

While snacking on our favorite college food, we spent the evening talking about nights out, relationships and the infamous 111 E. Chalmers in Champaign, IL (the apartment we probably shouldn’t have spent two full years in). We joked about the day three of us would wear matching dresses in support of the fourth, discussed future travel plans and toasted our friendship up to this point.

My biggest takeaway from these girls? My friends keep me grounded. They’re the ones texting and calling me when I’ve been at the office too long. They teach me that although I’m a talker, sometimes the stories just need to be shorter. However, even after all these years (and countless stories) they’re always the first ones who will stop and listen.


Jess – The listener: I spent more time in her room than my own talking about my life. And most of those trips ended with me wearing an entire ensemble compiled from her closet.

Sarah – The adventurer: She sees things in photos professionals come up with and motivates me to seek opportunities outside of my comfortable bubble.

Katy – The free spirit: My girly tomboy who taught me to be bold and improves my confidence by reminding me, why be anyone else?

The post shared by Valerie Simon about her college roommate, Meg, demonstrates the strength these friendships hold. After learning of her friend’s cancer diagnosis, Valerie reached out to her social media network in hopes of securing a $2 donation from friends to offset medical costs. She chose $2 as it seemed she and her roommate could always find $2 to head out to a local bar during college. We were invited to raise a toast in support of #TeamMeg.

So here’s your reminder to call your college roommate, kindergarten best friend and anyone in between. Our relationships define us. What do yours say about you?

So, you’ve got your master’s degree!


I hope you enjoy this guest post from a very good friend, Andy Herren. Andy is the type of person who walked around a campus of 40,000 students and knew 9 out of 10 people he passed on the street. Not only was he a contributor to the University of Illinois newspaper, he is the person who can drum up 30+ responses to a Facebook status — I wanted to give him a new outlet to share his writing. Here goes…


“So, you’ve got your master’s degree!  What’s next?”  Oh,  those dreaded words.  Don’t worry if you’ve spouted them to me (as a good 95 percent of those in my life have); it is nice to know that people care about my future even if I have no idea what it holds.  I’ll admit what nearly everyone who has just left college behind is thinking:  the real world kinda sucks.  Looking for jobs is stressful, not being able to get drunk four nights a week is a major buzz kill (albeit a responsible buzz kill), and moving back in with mom and dad isn’t what anyone envisions for themselves as a college graduate.  However, I feel as though life as a new grad is very exciting.  The world is yours for the taking, and as long as you’ve got the ambition nothing is impossible.  Also, having a solid base of friends is essential to life as a post grad (and life in general, actually).  I’d now like to take some time to do one of my favorite activities:  talk about myself.  Let’s start at the beginning…

I’m going to take you back to August of 2005, when a petrified only child who had never done laundry before was dumped at the substance free dorm of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by a devastated, crying mother and an impatient, frustrated father (he had been dealing with my weepy mom all afternoon).  If you haven’t guessed already, the student in question is yours truly, and to be quite honest, I almost transferred from U of I after a few months.  Living in the substance free dorm (Snyder Hall, for anyone wondering) yielded meeting VERY FEW social people, and I was used to being able to meet and greet with panache.  Unless you’re an engineer who wants straight A pluses (and if you are, I mean no disrespect), nearly anyone who attends college will admit that finding a solid base of friends is essential to being happy and successful in such a foreign environment, and this element was glaringly missing from my college experience.  Well, by October of 2005 everything changed when I met the dude who eventually became my best friend of college.  All of a sudden I had a partner in crime, and we established a social network that expanded across all of campus.  We would go on “Dorm Tours” every night, leaving after dinner and typically arriving back home around 2:30am.  On these tours, we would end up traveling all over the University to visit floors of our friends.  Freshman year went from one of the loneliest times of my life to one of the most exciting, and all it took was establishing some solid connections. 

The action of making connections occurred similarly my sophomore year as well.  On Open Doors Night in Allen Hall I struck up a conversation with the guy who turned out to be my other best friend of college, thus proving that connections can be made in even the hokiest of settings.  I also would take advantage of meeting people in classes, usually sitting back for a few weeks, gauging who was worth establishing contact with, and making my move towards friendship.  Doing this also resulted in lasting relationships that I maintain this very day. 

Undergrad passed by in a blur of Corona and research papers, and soon it was time to decide what was next.  The first semester of my senior year I was taking two classes in the Communication department, and I fell in love.  I talked to the professors of these classes, who urged me to apply for my master’s in Communication at U of I.  I applied, got in, and instantly had the next two years of my life figured out.  I still remember all of my friends freaking out about employment while I was just getting drunk because I had solidified a solid two-year base for myself after graduation.

I started graduate school in the fall of 2009, and all of a sudden it felt like 2005 again.  My core of friends had all graduated, and I was back…without any of them.  Even though I was in the same physical location I still felt a sense of loneliness at losing so many people I really cared about.  Thus, I made it my goal to be proactive and get to know the people in my program.  Soon, myself and the eight other people in the Communication master’s program were great friends, and I can say with confidence that I plan to keep in touch with all of them.  The other interaction that I truly valued about my time in graduate school was the time I spent with my students.  You see, in the Communication program graduate students are made TAs for classes, and I taught courses in public speaking and paper writing.  My students’ success motivated me to yearn towards being the best teacher I could possibly be, and watching all of them progress throughout our time together is still one of the best memories I will have of all of my time at U of I.  The two years I spent getting my master’s passed as quickly as undergrad, and now I find myself writing this guest blog entry for (the lovely) Stephanie Florence.  So, you’re all probably wondering (that is if you’ve reached this point…sorry, I’m long-winded):  what’s next?

My future plans, as of right now, include taking improvisation classes at Second City in Chicago, applying to USC film school, applying to teach community college near my house, applying for communications jobs in Chicago, and playing with my dog a lot.  I’ve also been frequenting the gym due to immense amounts of free time.   Yes, I am currently unemployed, but the extreme optimist in me says to hold out a bit and keep taking risks.  Sure, film school will cost me six figures of debt if I get in, but it would put me on a path towards a life that I have dreamed about since I was young.  Yeah, taking improv classes isn’t the most professional thing to do after getting your master’s degree, but I’ve always wanted to try my hand at comedy, so why not now?  Life is short, and for the moment being I’d rather be poor and happy than rich and stuck doing something I dislike.  The more practical part of me, however, is screaming, “GET A JOB, YOU BUM!  Do you want to be homeless one day?!”  The fact that I have very little money definitely is a huge incentive to try and join the work force. 

So, the moral of the story:  I can’t stress enough how important it is to make connections in whatever situation your find yourself.  Be it during your freshman year of college or your first year in the work force, I say “Go!  Get out there and meet people!”  Having people to talk to and confide in is a true (and free!) pleasure in life.  I actually heard about Second City and USC through friends who know me and thought I would love what each institution has to offer, and if you’re looking for a job it never hurts to have a foundation of people who have your back and will go to bat for you.  Also, if you’re recently graduated, friends are the perfect people to complain about unemployment with.  Take it from someone with first-hand experience. 

Update: Congrats to Andy on landing a Speech teaching gig at a local community college!