A Fireside Chat with PR’s Leading Professionals


On the afternoon of Nov. 7, more than 50 students from seven universities around the country gathered at DePaul University to participate in the annual Student Mentoring Session, co-sponsored by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and DePaul University’s PRSSA Chapter. This year’s mentoring session looked a little different than in years’ past: students had the chance to speak with Milestones in Mentoring honorees in a roundtable format, creating a more intimate and conversational atmosphere. Below are key takeaways from each honoree’s time at the session:

Be flexible and adaptable. SVP and Chief Communications Officer for Levi Strauss & Co., Kelly McGinnis, says that working at Levi’s is her dream job, but her path wasn’t one of ease. She landed multiple jobs and learned as much as she could at every opportunity before finally securing a job with Levi Strauss & Co. Her advice was to stay positive and see each opportunity as a place for growth until the next one comes along. The path to your dream job might have multiple stops along the way.

Use your diverse background as an asset. Before entering the public relations industry, Rich Jernstedt, President & CEO of The Jernstedt Company, had a career in the military. He found that his diverse background was an advantage when entering the public relations workforce. He encouraged students to embrace their diverse backgrounds. By using the things that make us different, we can excel as a team when all of our diversities come together.

Being involved isn’t just for students. Matthew Harrington, Global President and Chief Operating Officer of Edelman, serves on the advisory board for multiple organizations. He uses these boards to expand his network and tap into his interests outside of his position at Edelman. Being involved is a common phrase of advice many college students hear in their time at university. However, Harrington says that being involved doesn’t have to stop after graduation. By joining advisory boards and committees, working professionals can remain involved well into their careers.

Find a sponsor, not just a mentor. Cheryl Sanclemente, Senior Director of Corporate PR at Salesforce, spoke of the importance of mentorship, but also of sponsorship. She differentiated the two by saying a “mentor” is someone who can give you advice and guide you to success, but a “sponsor” is someone who can open the door for you. Sanclemente says that sponsorship is important because even if you’re qualified, it can be difficult to find an opening. She went one step further to advise that once you find your sponsor, you should pay it forward.

The importance of research. Dr. David Dozier, Professor Emeritus at San Diego State University, spoke of how research should be used to increase our credibility as practitioners in the communications field. This young industry has faced years of scrutiny and distrust. This mindset has transitioned as the digital age changed the way public relations practitioners work. Today, most companies recognize the need for public relations, but Dozier minded us to prove our worth by backing up all of our strategies with strong research and insights.

The people around you are the best resources you have. Use them. Anyone who has met CEO Kim Hunter, of Lagrant Communications, can agree that he is a vivacious light in the room. He could be described as the definition of a “people person.” Hunter’s overarching message to the students was to make connections and make a lot of them. But these are not just words he preaches, but ones he lives by. This was clearly demonstrated by his interest in the students he was interacting with, being dutiful to ask every single person at the table to share his or her story. Leading by example, Kim Hunter showed the importance of networking and ensuring it is a mutually beneficial interaction.

Published: December 8, 2019

Jessie GeorgeAbout the author: Jessie George is a student at The University of Alabama pursuing an undergraduate degree in public relations. She is also a part of the accelerated master’s program, which allows her to concurrently pursue an undergraduate and a master’s degree in public relations and advertising.