As a student at USC Annenberg’s School for Communication & Journalism, with public relations and communication majors, it was pretty much beat into me by professors and career advisers that getting a job is all about networking, networking, networking (plus internships before graduating). Thankfully, throughout college, I had access to amazing internship opportunities and a built-in network of alumni ready and willing to help fellow Trojans. But when I decided to move to San Diego after graduating in 2002, it became an entirely different ball game. I turned down an offer to continue full time with the international PR agency in L.A. with which I was interning because I was 100 percent set on moving to San Diego. So then began the full-time job search and real-world networking in a new market. It was not easy and took a few months before I found a job, but I learned some incredibly valuable lessons along the way that really set me on the right path to develop my career.
I was not excited about the idea of networking — showing up to an event in a room full of people that all seem to know each other somehow, or at least know what to say and do, was daunting to say the least. I started with the Public Relations Society of America’s local San Diego chapter by attending a luncheon. For an unemployed recent college graduate, it was a bit of an investment, but it really paid off. I was thankful to find one person I knew that I had met recently through my boyfriend (now my husband) at a biotech industry event, sat next to her, and happened to also sit next to a local agency owner that was looking to hire an account coordinator. I sent her my resume and the rest was history — that was the start of my PR career in San Diego and my involvement with PRSA. I have since worked for a few local companies, both in the agency environment and in-house, and three of those jobs were a direct result of my involvement and connections through PRSA. From meeting a future employer at a luncheon to receiving a referral from the president of the Chapter because the employer contacted her for recommendations of strong candidates, PRSA always seems to play a part in making connections happen for me. I LOVE my current job and where I have ended up at this point in my career, have had some amazing experiences along the way, and I largely have PRSA to thank for that.
Serving on the board of directors for the PRSA San Diego-Imperial Counties Chapter is an honor and a privilege, but it also involves a lot of work, often during my free time. I would not have spent the last 6+ years of my life dedicated to this organization if I did not believe in the work we are doing. I am so grateful for the network of wonderful people and friends that I have made through PRSA, and it is the least I can do to give back and help run the local Chapter, along with an incredibly talented group of diverse PR professionals that I serve alongside. But what I have gotten back from my service far outweighs any sacrifices I have had to make along the way. Beginning with my involvement on the San Diego Chapter’s New Pros Committee in 2004, I have made great friends and watched people that were fellow newbies with me back then move on to high-level positions, and have been able to share the highs and lows of our careers openly throughout the years. I subsequently joined different committees and quickly began developing more relationships with key contacts in the Chapter, and eventually I joined the board of directors for the PRSA San Diego-Imperial Counties Chapter.
I would encourage anyone in the PR industry to get involved in their local PRSA chapter one way or another, and there are so many ways to do so, by attending a luncheon, volunteering at an event, joining a committee and, of course, becoming a member. There are many benefits to PRSA membership overall, but each member’s experience is in their own hands to maximize and strategically utilize for professional development. Volunteering on a committee turned out to be the absolute best way for me to overcome my networking fears, as my network of peers organically grew through real working relationships and friendships. I have come to learn that is what real networking is all about — not just walking into a room and handing out some business cards, but working with your peers on projects that require you to get to know each other on both personal and professional levels. PRSA has proven to be the best forum for me to develop connections that turn into worthwhile and meaningful relationships. Now when I walk into a room of PR professionals at a local event, it is a completely different experience because I know most of the people in the room and have more than enough to talk about with them. I love meeting newcomers and look forward to continuing to expand my network in the future, and hopefully be able to pay it forward and help others in the industry. I have already had a few remarkable experiences of being able to make connections and help people with their career moves, and it is such a rewarding and gratifying feeling to be able to do that.
I am proud to represent PRSA as a local Chapter board member and chair of our Chapter’s Membership and Volunteer Recruitment Committee, as I have gained so much through my own membership and volunteer projects with this organization, and I will sing the organization’s praises to anyone willing to listen.
Erin Coller, senior account executive, Zenzi Communications, has more than 10 years of experience in the field with a proven track record in specialties including media relations, corporate communication, community relations, crisis communication and social media. She has worked with brands including Nestle® Drumstick®, Chiquita Brands International, FOX Broadcasting Company, Nintendo and Dreyer’s®/Edy’s® Grand Ice Cream. She is a regular contributor to Zenzi’s blog at www.zenzi.com. Follow Erin on Twitter @erincoller or connect with her on LinkedIn.
Receive a FREE one-year PRSA Chapter membership when you join PRSA National in September. It’s a smart way to expand your network and your knowledge. To learn more about PRSA membership and membership promotions, visit www.prsa.org/joinus!