Big City Networking for Small Town Students

Brandi Smith

How do you network with PR firms when you attend a school which is not located in a big city? This question was recently raised by a group of students from my alma mater – West Virginia University.   I could relate to this question, since I was in their shoes 10 years ago and also wanted to pursue a career with a large PR firm.

After applying to more than 100 jobs after college, I was able to break through and land an internship at Ketchum Pittsburgh that led to a full-time position in their Chicago office. Here are some tips that helped me network with the big city folks:

Agency Office Tours: Plan a day trip to a nearby “big city” to visit agencies. This could be on your own or through PRSSA. Reach out to someone from the agency account team or human resources to request the tour.

Network with Alumni: Utilize alumni directories and LinkedIn to find alumni working at PR agencies. Email people and inquire about their career path. Once you start a conversation, consider asking if you can job shadow them or if they would speak to your class in person or via video conference. While my alma mater is only a little over an hour away from Pittsburgh, you’d be surprised at how many people have emailed me to network (the answer: NONE!)

Stay in Touch: Once you make that connection, don’t be a stranger! Stay in touch with the professional via email each semester. Consider emailing them if you see their agency making positive headlines or ask them to review your resume.

Brandi Smith is a 2003 graduate of West Virginia University with a B.S. in Public Relations. She currently is an Account Supervisor at Ketchum Pittsburgh where she is a member of the Brand Marketing practice. Brandi is professional advisor to the Point Park University PRSSA chapter in Pittsburgh.

11 thoughts on “Big City Networking for Small Town Students

  1. Good tips, Brandi. I’d also add to get involved with the PRSA chapter in the area. It’s a great way to not only network but to demonstrate your work ethic, tenacity and general know-how!

  2. My name is Brandon Vance and I’m a junior at Southeast Missouri State University double majoring in Public Relations and Journalism. I can relate to this article because I think about this all the time when looking at possible internships. My university is not located in a large city which can make it hard to land those big city internships. I always look at internships and they many have, “from a premier or prestigious university” on the job posting.
    My question is how do you make yourself stand out on your application, resume, or emails to individual in charge of hiring? I know that networking is key and I am involved with our school’s PRSSA chapter. But what is something that I can do in order to land that dream internship competing with students from other, maybe larger and well known universities? Thank you for your help and thank you for writing this article, because I can relate so closely to it.

    1. Brandon: Relevant experience, volunteerism and internships are the best way to beef up a resume and get noticed by prospective employers. PRSSA membership and leadership roles come next. Sadly, your GPA does not gain you much unless it’s in the high 3s or 4.0.

  3. My name is Logan Rennick and I attend Southeast Missouri State University as a Senior. I can really relate with being from a small town trying to transition into the big city life. While SEMO isn’t located in necessarily the smallest city, it still doesn’t compare to the large networking you can gain from places like Chicago, St. Louis, or even Los Angeles. I am currently majoring in PR with a minor in Marketing Management and Sales. I have various jobs and ideas as to what career path I want to go into however, how would I set myself apart while being from such a small area? I am looking into working for a sports agency or a relative field. How exactly would I reach out or start looking into what are the agencies, or how to get ahold of these big city agencies while being from a small town like Cape Girardeau? This was an insightful article and opened my eyes to the bigger picture like agency tours, or attempting to reach out to alumni.

    1. Network. Network. Network. It’s the best way to find out about job opportunities whether you’re in a big city or small southeast Missouri river town. Definitely go on class and PRSSA-sponsored agency visits and collect business cards of those you meet. And make a point of actually shaking hands with people who host the visits. You’d be surprised with how few people actually make a point of introducing themselves. It will leave a lasting impression, and it enables you to follow up by staying that you met them. You’ll also want to make sure you have specific experience to the job that you hope to eventually land. So, you might want to volunteer for a local sports team to help with their PR. Build a resume that tells a prospective employer that you’re serious about wanting to do this for a living. Good luck.

  4. Hello my name is Katie Mace and I am currently a senior at Southeast Missouri State University majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Communication Studies. I really appreciate all of the knowledge I was able to gain by reading this article. I have lived in a suburban area for most of my life but have always had dreams of ending up in a big city. I am a member of the PRSSA chapter at my college which provides me with many networking opportunities. However, I am paying my way through college which does not allow me to be able to afford some of the bigger conferences. This causes a problem for me because I would love to be able to work in a big city in the future. I understand that there are less expensive networking opportunities that I can take advantage of in the St. Louis area but I am also interested in relocating to a different state after graduation. Are there some specific things I can do now in order to network with potential out-of-state employers without having to break the bank? I could definitely use some advice. Thanks!

    1. Good questions, Katie. Gaining experience and networking opportunities now are key to post graduation job searches. Have your faculty or professional PRSSA adviser contact major PR groups to see if you can attend their meetings. The Publicity Club of Chicago allows students to attend luncheon meetings at no charge, but you’ll need to eat lunch before or afterwards since they can’t be expected to pay for your meal. (The food generally isn’t that good anyway–certainly not worth the $25 to $45 charge). PRSA chapters have made similar arrangements, and some subsidize the price of dinner and other meals by providing a more reasonable fee for students.

  5. Hello, my name is Jessica Haspel and I also attend Southeast Missouri State University. I am currently majoring in public relations and have a minor in marketing management and by reading this article it has gave me a better understanding in what I need to do. I am originally from a small town but now live in Saint Louis, but would like to even expand beyond on that. I find it more difficult for someone who lives in a smaller area to market themselves and get themselves out there. I would love to find myself working in a large city, because it has so many more opportunities. What would be the best ways for me to network myself and get myself out there to other clients? What approach would you recommend for someone in my situation and what ways can I make myself stand out apart from others?

    1. Jess: It is rare for entry-level candidates to market themselves in markets where they don’t live. Unless you have specific experiences that an agency is seeking, they will prefer to hire locally. I recommend that you select the cities where you might like to live, determine which ones have relatives and friends where you could stay for a few weeks and then “move” there to conduct your job search. This allows you to network more effectively since you’re able to respond quickly to interview opportunities and events.

  6. My name is Kynli Smith and I’m a junior at Southeast Missouri State University. My first two years of college I attended a community college in my home state, Illinois, where I received my Associate in Arts with an emphasis in communication. This is my first year at Southeast, and I’m trying my best to get involved. I have joined our school’s PRSSA chapter, and I’m involved in a couple of other student organizations.
    My question for you is how can you be the one person that will get the internship, the interview, the job? I know in PR you have to network, network, and network. How can you make yourself stand out from the others networking?
    I found your article very helpful and relatable. I grew up in the middle of corn fields in Illinois, and now am attending a university in a small town next to the Mississippi. I one day hope to be in the city as a PR professional.

    1. Kynli: Sounds like you’re doing all the right things for this stage of your college career. Make sure you take on leadership responsibilties in your campus activities, which catch the attention of people reading your resume. You’re right about networking being the best way to land an internship. Like you, I grew up in the middle of corn fields in Indiana and attended a university in a small river town about the size of Cape. Whenever possible, I ventured out to the “big city” of Indianapolis (70 miles away) attend meetings where I met as many people as possible, most of whom I’ve kept in touch with over the years.

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