In 2009 Annual Conference, 2009 Conference - Student Track, 2009 Conference - Tuesday


The goal for today’s presentation, titled What is Public Relations and What Are the Career Options?, was to introduce students in public relations related programs to the broad and varied aspects of the PR profession and the diverse career opportunities available within the field of public relations and how, on a broader scale, PR serves a vital element of every business. The discussion was presented by the Community Service Committee of the FPRA Treasure Coast Chapter. Panelists included Kendall Clifford, Patricia Austin Novak, APR, Linette Trabulsy, Audra Shaneman, Sam Yates and Debra Banta, APR.

Moderator Debra Banta, APR welcomed twenty up-and-coming professionals from colleges and universities around the state of Florida.

Pat Austin Novak, APR shared that working in PR is most similar to being a maestro in a very complicated orchestra.  While this is a very clear and appropriate analogy, there are very many dysfunctional parts that make up this orchestra and require a clear talent at, among other things, teambuilding.  Important tips for a new PR practitioner include:

  • Brand yourself within your organization – if you don’t brand who you are and what you stand you for won’t be able to show what you can offer your employer or client.
  • Stake out your territory so you know what and when to respond.
  • Demonstrate your integrity and it will translate into maintaining the integrity of your organization.  Public relations is often considered the conscience of the organization.  There are always competing interests in an organization and PR practitioners must understand these differences and work to become a master of social behavior to take these competing interests and give them the respect they deserve while working together to accomplish the goals of the institution.

The bottom line is that in order to make an impact in the “big place,” you must be a “big person” – have “big” integrity, be “big” enough to stand up and advocate for the proper PR principles for your organization and be “big” at branding yourself.

Resources suggested by Pat for the future PR professional include The Wisdom of Crowds and Bowling Alone.

Linette Trabulsy, President of the Treasure Coast Chapter shared that before choosing PR as a career interest, she was a pharmacy major.  While in school at the University of Florida, she took the pharmacy entrance exam and failed horribly.  She chose to withdraw from pharmacy classes and re-examine her career goals, where in an Intro to PR class she realized that the field of public relations was an interest and something that truly excited her.  Through her career, she stated that working directly with the media is her most favorite part of the job and that PR is never boring because there is always a difference challenge every day.  Dealing with the media presents difficult challenges because they have control of whether the pitched story is covered and how it is presented.  Key to effective media relations is developing strong, ongoing relationship with local media contacts and developing relationship with other PR practitioners.  Both the PR practitioner and the media have a job to do and it’s our job to help them get their job done.  It is important to remember that when setting up an interview or press release you must consider the audience.  Also, if you are not the contact for additional information, make sure that the person who is the contact has been adequately prepared, briefed, and available and is comfortable in speaking with the media.  Frequent contact with media representatives is a key to keep the lines of communication open and maintain relationships.

Audra Shaneman shared that in her organization things are very compartmentalized and was excited to find an organization made up of “like-minded” professionals in the FPRA.  Her work in PR caters to a very specific audience made up of the residents within the Mariner Sands Country Club community.  Many of her “clients” or residents are seasonal, so the summer gives her time to plan, organize and prepare for events throughout the fall, winter and spring.  Currently she is working to completely overhaul and redesign the organization’s website.  Central to all decisions is the corporate bottom line and always looking to increase revenue.  A mantra is her office that’s relevant for all areas of public relations is “Retain, Recruit, Revenue.”  Retention is always important with clients of any kind and recruiting is also important and requires being able to be unique and set apart from others and throughout all these efforts, consideration of the bottom line is important as a benchmark.  Internal buy-in is also very important.  Walk around and visit with other departments in your organization to not only learn what’s going on, but to also gain buy-in with internal audiences through your interest in what they are doing.  Be proactive in knowing what’s coming up in three months, six months, eight months, etc. to know how to best plan outreach efforts and develop goals for using the appropriate outreach vehicles.  Most importantly, customer service plays an important role in client relations.  Know what’s going on so that you can always be at the decision making table to play devil’s advocate and/or provide solutions to the management team.  Some important career advice: don’t get hung up on titles or salary.  Pursue responsibility, influence and credibility.

Kendall Clifford shared her perspective as a recent graduate that’s been working for an agency for two years now.  As a freshman in college she realized that business as a major wasn’t going to work.  She found a passion in public relations and communications while exploring majors in college and found internships very important and beneficial.  Through two different internships, she learned that PR was the career for her.  While at the University of Alabama, her first internship was working in event planning for the athletic department.  The second was with the university’s transportation department, developing a strategic public relations plan for implementing a campus transit service.  The benefit came when she saw the fruition of her efforts as the implementation plan was put into place.  Public relations is often about change and it allows for the practitioner to help manage this change through accurate information in a timely manner.  It is also a continual learning experience.  She encouraged the students to not focus on salary and prestige but in finding a job they like that allows them to do what they like while also learning new things.

Sam Yates shared that he was originally in the media business and is now on “the other side of the yellow tape.”   Public relations keeps you on your toes every day.  At one time his agency represented Simon malls’60 properties.  After a difference of opinion, the partnership ended and his agency was downsized.  Being flexible and able to adapt is key to owning your own agency.  His experience in the news business, allows him to think like the media and better advise his clients.  The media can’t be controlled, but they can be influenced. He shared an example that happened at Easter with one of his mall clients.  The Easter Bunny event at this mall decided to close early and the employee running the event became engaged in a screaming match with a parent.  This evolved into the employee punching the parent, the parent then physically assaulting the employee and the Easter Bunny then entering the fray.  Another incident with another client mall involved a double homicide.  While the first example was funny, and the second tragic, they are both media relations nightmares.  With the world of social media, anyone who Tweets, Facebooks, blogs, or podcasts is a citizen journalist.  This makes the role of the public relations practitioner much more difficult.   Forget everything that you learn in college about the media.  It is a strictly on-the job skill that is learned through trial by fire.  In media relations, consider your media contacts, anticipate what the media needs to be able to block, have an answer for or provide a defense to for your client.  Also be able to clearly identify your friend and your foes in working with the media.  The ones who are “friendly” may allow you to share a little more information.  The underlying foundation of public relations is “do the right thing” but this may cause you to have to walk away from clients.  A crisis can happen any day for your clients or for you as the PR professional and can be typical as the ones shared previously or they can be non-traditional such as not having an effective or appropriate public relations plan in place.  Having a plan for both your client and your organization is critical.  Never let situations get out of hand by having a plan that will allow you to gather the facts and respond accordingly.  A key to a crisis plan is to limit the exposure of your client.  During a crisis always monitor what’s going on so you know how to appropriately respond.  This also means that the public relations practitioner must keep the media accountable – this includes citizen journalists, too.  Seven tips to win with the media:

  1. Be on the record
  2. Express facts not opinion
  3. Can the jargon
  4. Always tell the truth – it’s the right thing to do and if you don’t it will come back to haunt you
  5. Learn to say I don’t know
  6. Make every media encounter an opportunity
  7. Stay calm

Tara Ricks who works with Sam Yates quickly shared information about how she went from graduating college four months ago to now having a job in the PR field.  She gave six tips for getting a job:

  1. Have strong self-confidence and realize you will always be learning
  2. Don’t phone your college experience in – be present in your classes and build a portfolio now
  3. Take and keep your notes
  4. Become a part of the social media movement – don’t just participate, be a part of it, but be professional
  5. Brand yourself
  6. Take advantage of internships
  7. Get your name out there and be a part of the community you work in

Public Relations Career Resource Guide


  • The Florida Public Relations Association – the oldest public relations association in the United States; a statewide organization of nearly 1,500 public relations professionals.
  • Public Relations Association of America – a leading PR organization that reflects a variety of issues impacting the PR industry and provides timely insight to tactics, strategies, the marketplace, the future of the PR trade, and a wealth of resources.

Frequently Asked Questions

Professional Development in the PR industry

Universal Accreditation BoardWhat is APR? APR or Accredited in Public Relations is a mark of distinction for public relations professionals who demonstrate their commitment to the profession and to its ethical practice, and who are selected based on broad knowledge, strategic perspective, and sound professional judgment.

PR Career Resources, Mentors and Guides

  • With a focus on Your Future in Public Relations, this site covers who has a future in PR, what gets you started, where to find career support when the going gets rough, and why you should even bother.
  • The Princeton Review — Paying Your Dues – Since public relations require a familiarity with a wide variety of topics, a broad education is the best preparation for the career.

Postsecondary Programs in Public Relations

About The Panelists:

Kendall Clifford – Kendall Clifford is known as the “Sparksetter” at the Firefly Group, however her more conventional title is Public Relations & Marketing Specialist. Kendall has quickly achieved a reputation with clients for producing creative, compelling results. Areas of focus include media relations, marketing, community outreach and education collateral materials development, copyrighting, graphic design, and comprehensive event planning activities. She graduated from the University of Alabama where she interned with the University’s Department of Transportation as the Campaign Manager and Creative Director and was responsible for the creation and execution of the successful “My Ride, My Reason” campaign. Kendall will discuss:  Starting your career / importance of capitalizing on postsecondary educational opportunities/internships /opportunities of working in a locally-based agency.

Patricia Austin Novak, APR – Patricia Austin, APR, served as the chief public relations officer at health care organizations in Vermont, New York and Florida for more than twenty years. In her retirement, she has continued to work as a public relations consultant to health care and educational organizations and teaches at Indian River State College. During her two decades as a member of the Florida Public Relations Association, she has served as Chapter President, State Vice President for Chapter Services, and a judge for FPRA’s Image Awards. She holds a Masters Degree in English from Southern Illinois University. Pat will discuss:  The importance of “adapting” one’s skills to suit the organization and the PR mission.

Linette Trabulsy – Linette Trabulsy is the Director of Development for St. Anastasia Catholic School in Fort Pierce.  Trabulsy is in charge of the school’s fundraising efforts, public relations, special events and communications.  Most recently, she was lead Community Outreach/Media Specialist for the Martin/St. Lucie Service Center of the South Florida Water Management District. She is responsible for identifying outreach and media opportunities, informing the public about critical issues, and generates support for District initiatives.  Prior to working for the District, Linette worked for the St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners as a Public Information Officer for 3 1/2 years. During this time Linette “weathered” Hurricanes Jeanne, Frances and Wilma, coordinated the media for President George W. Bush’s visit, responded to national and international media to St. Lucie County’s innovative solid waste solutions, and traveled to New Orleans to provide post-storm assistance after Hurricane Katrina.  Linette will discuss:  The evolution of her PR career path / Proactive communications / Establishing media relations/government relations.

Audra Shaneman – Audra is the Membership Communications Specialist for Mariner Sands Country Club in Stuart.  Hired in 2003, she moved into the newly created membership communications slot in 2006. Her main responsibilities include co-editing the club newsletter, producing and managing content for the community cable channel and website, and creating flyers, posters and invitations for club special events and tournaments.  She also holds a Community Association Manager license from the state of Florida.  A transplant from Minnesota, her previous employment includes being the Legislative Aide to the Minority Whip in the Minnesota Senate and working in public affairs, donor development, membership marketing and special events for Minnesota Public Radio. She has Bachelor of Science Degrees in Marketing and Biblical Studies. Outside of work, Audra enjoys family time with her husband and two small children, women’s ministry, motivational speaking and writing. Audra will discuss: Hands-on communications within the corporate structure.

Sam Yates – Sam Yates is President of Yates & Associates, Public Relations & Marketing, based in Jensen Beach with a satellite office in Orlando, Florida. Yates & Associates serves local, regional, national, and international clients. Sam is a former television anchor and was an aviation/aerospace reporter in Cincinnati, Dayton, and Columbus, Ohio markets. Sam has more than 30 years of media and public relations experience. He began his career in broadcasting while a high school student at Dan McCarty High School in Fort Pierce. Sam’s experience is far reaching having handled clients such as The Iams Company, Dodge Truck, Timberland, Simon Property Group, Bank of America, The Huntington National Bank of Florida, and National City Mortgage. Locally, Sam is the public relations representative for the American Red Cross Martin County Chapter. He is also the spokesperson for the American Red Cross during local disasters such as hurricanes Frances, Jeanne, and Wilma.  Sam will discuss:  How the PR industry interfaces with the media and the role of PR in crisis management.

Debra Banta, APR – Debra coordinates GED Testing and Special Projects for the Martin County School District. Her 24 year career with the district has provided Debra with the opportunity to merge her passions for education and public relations into a job that she finds rewarding as well as creatively challenging. She serves on several community boards, including the Education Foundation of Martin County and the Indiantown Education Coalition, which involve community outreach, event planning and fundraising.  She earned a B.S. degree from the University of Southern Connecticut in English/Secondary Education and a minor in Journalism; she also earned an M.S. degree in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. In 2006, she a achieved a personal milestone and passed the Universal Accreditation Board Exam to be recognized as Accredited in Public Relations (APR). Debra has been a member of the Treasure Coast Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association since 1998.  Debra will serve as the moderator for the FPRA Panel Discussion.

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