Today was the Digital Media Summit at UT Dallas sponsored by the Texas Public Relations Association. This is my second communications conference this month, which is two more than I had previously attended in my life. A few weeks ago, I was asked by the UNT PRSSA chapter president if I would compete in the student competition and I happily agreed. We put together a small four person team and prepared mentally for the challenge we were about to undertake.
When we arrived today, we were given a two page situation analysis regarding a bank merger. The assignment: to come up with a communications plan that focused on alleviating employee fears about layoffs, handles the name change of the bank, and merging two polarizing bank cultures – one super casual and one super professional. The time limit was a little over one hour to come up with a comprehensive plan that addressed the need for research, identified target audiences, set objectives, developed effective strategies and tactics, and demonstrated strong understanding of strategic PR.
So how did we do, you ask? Well we didn’t win and as Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.” Regardless, I am proud of our effort and proud of my teammates who are young enough to be my students – oh wait, one of them was years ago when I was a teacher! I never imagined I would end up a student again sharing classes with former students, but it has been a learning experience for us both as we learn to look at each other as equals and budding PR professionals.
My life has taken a drastic turn these past three years as I struggled through two brutal rounds of budget cuts in two years that virtually ended my eight-year career as an English teacher. I guess Forrest was right when he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.” Sure, I could stick it out and wait for things to bounce back but why when that could take years? I loved teaching and I have nothing but respect for teachers (the good ones anyway), but it was never what I set out to do all those years ago as an undergrad student.
Back then, I was focused solely on a public relations career in professional sports. It didn’t work out at the time and instead teaching became a phenomenal part of my life that I will never forget. My professor said it best today at the conference when she said, “I’ve never been paid so little to do so much and loved it as much as I love teaching. I have the BEST students and it is these moments that keep me in it.” I know how she feels and that feeling is what I will miss most about teaching.
But for now, for me, it is time to move on to new and exciting challenges. I thought public relations was a part of my past so I’m thrilled that it is now a part of my present and my future. I have enjoyed this semester more than I could possibly imagine because I have met so many amazing and wonderful people who are just as eager, animated and excited about communications and social media as I am. Now I have my own circle of people to geek-out with, much like Star Wars fans when they get together (except that we don’t smell like Doritos, Diet Coke and desperation and live in our mother’s basements… or do we?).
It is not often in life that we get a “do-over,” but the University of North Texas has given me just that. I have produced more portfolio-quality work in the past 10 weeks than I have produced in the past 10 years. I have learned more about social media, communications planning and public relations in general than I ever imagined possible and more than I ever learned as an undergrad (no disrespect to my alma mater). Of course that isn’t very hard to beat because social media didn’t exist when I was earning my PR degree all those years ago.
I am a part of Generation X, which in some circles is considered to be the beginning of the Millenials group although I’ve never identified with them. I’ve always felt slightly superior to this generation because I had the best of both world: I’m old enough to remember when we mailed letters to each other and worried about long distance phone bills and I’m young enough to have fully adapted to this new world of social media. What do these young whipper-snappers know about sending mail? Half of them couldn’t address an envelope without Googling it first or watching an instructional video on YouTube.
But as I sat there this afternoon at the TPRA summit and looked around me, I realized that at any given point these people, these “kids,” around me could become my colleagues any day now. No longer do I see them as the spoiled and entitled students I used to teach. Now I see them as smart, eager professionals in the making with a unique perspective and a sharp set of communication skills. I can only hope that people will see me the same way, not as a former teacher set in her ways but as a sharp, witty PR practitioner ready to take on the world with the gusto of a 22-year old and the maturity someone with 12 years of life/work experience under her belt.
UNT has given me that rare “do-over” opportunity and with what I have learned and the connections I have made, I know that the time is ripe for me to finally begin my true calling – as a public relations professional.