By Maret Montanari
If you had asked me four years ago if I’d major in public relations, I would have laughed and told you it wasn’t even on my radar. Fast forward, and I’m three years into pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communication from The University of Alabama. How did this happen? Some days I still ask myself this question. If there’s anything I’ve learned from life and the industry, though, it’s plan all you want, but surprises will happen.
And that’s exactly what it was when PRWeek named me the Outstanding Student 2018 — it was a surprise. Yes, I went through the application process, but as I advanced to the top five and then the top two, the shock factor increased.
The feeling was surreal as I heard my name called in a room full of the best and brightest industry professionals — a description I don’t extend to myself. These past two months have felt like Cloud Nine as I am still trying to soak it all in. I am so incredibly honored and excited to receive this award and represent The University of Alabama.
It’s truly humbling to be chosen out of students across the nation. I never would have imagined the seemingly small click of the computer mouse as I selected PR as my major at orientation would alter my future in such a monumental way. The journey hasn’t always been easy, but it’s one that has started molding me into the young professional I will become.
Don’t doubt yourself.
My faculty adviser and personal mentor, Teri Henley, sent the PRWeek Outstanding Student entry kit to me in early September. I debated on whether I would take the plunge and enter as a little voice in the back of my head told me I didn’t have what it took. I called my sister late September to pick her brain about entering the competition, and she responded with “What do you have to lose?”. I realized failure is always an option, but I wouldn’t know unless I tried.
Research, research and research.
The campaign was centered on using digital channels to drive millennial visitors to Delaware — the least visited state in the U.S., and after my research, I can understand why. As a Texan with very few northern adventures, I was clueless about Delaware and the tourism industry as a whole, but say no more than “millennials” and “digital channels” — this is my kind of talk. I realized I could use studies, focus groups, interviews with tourism experts and other resources to become an expert on Delaware and travel. After all, what good are strategies and tactics without any facts to hold them up? Research should always support a campaign proposal.
Use your mentors.
The campaign is based on your creativity and ability to think strategically, but that doesn’t mean you have to go at it alone. I looked to my industry mentors: Mrs. Henley, Mrs. Tracy Sims and Katie Gatti, 2017 Honorable Mention recipient for PRWeek Outstanding Student Award, for advice on my campaign. I discussed and may have badgered them a little with more ideas about drawing millennial visitors to Delaware than they cared to hear. Occasionally, their insight frustratingly forced me to go back to the drawing board, but in the end, it only made my creativity flow more and my campaign all the better.
Go the extra mile.
Never just stop at the bare minimum. In the entry kit, it specified entrants could include supplemental materials, such as a campaign website and video. I finalized my campaign ideas in early November, and I spent the next few weeks prepping it all to submit. Thus, my Thanksgiving break was no break and transformed me into a Wix and Premiere Pro guru between bites of turkey and stuffing. I knew if I didn’t give it my all and the outcome did not meet my expectations, I would be disappointed in myself.
Whether a public relations student or not, I highly encourage anyone to apply for the PRWeek Outstanding Student Award. The results might not go your way, but at the very least, you can walk away feeling challenged and empowered. It’s not every day you have the opportunity to create a full-blown campaign singlehandedly. Take advantage of opportunities like this to challenge yourself and grow in the industry. After all, you might be the next PRWeek Outstanding Student.