The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) is an organization dedicated to providing professional connections and advice for their members. During this time of remote learning and work, the organization had to adapt to the current situation. Vice President Sierra Heilman and President Sami Morsink have more to say about the organization’s adaptation.
Q:How have your plans changed for this academic year and the summer?
Sierra: For the academic year, not much has changed because I was already taking the majority of online classes. When it comes to all that Ohio University and Athens have to offer, my plans of trying new food and coffee shops, spending quality time with my college friends and making memories have ended. That's a hard pill to swallow. For the summer, I had already accepted a job at a PR agency with my start date in July. Between graduation and June, I was supposed to be heading off on a flight to travel to Europe for a month. Obviously, that isn't the case anymore. It's saddening, but I am trying to keep my spirits up because eventually I will go to Europe and I am extremely thankful that I have a job secured in this time of uncertainty.
Sami: I wasn’t planning to move home quite so soon, it has made it a bit more difficult to get everything done at school and pack up everything in my apartment. I got a puppy since I had all this free time to start training. I have had a hard time locking down a job, a lot of places have responded to me and said they are postponing or holding off on hiring for the positions I’ve applied for now. I am hopeful I can still get something by graduation and stick to my plan of getting an apartment around Columbus. I was planning to go to Europe for a little while post-graduation, but that’s being postponed now as well.
Q: How does the organization usually run? (How many meetings do you have? How many people attend? How many events?)
Sierra: We have a chapter meeting every Monday at 6 p.m. As executive vice president, it is my job to find professionals in the PR industry to come and talk to our chapter. I invite people with different backgrounds, experiences, industries, etc. It's a great way for our members to network and really learn what it's like in the real world before they enter it themselves. Many, if not every, member ends up getting internships and jobs through these speakers and we pride ourselves on being able to provide that opportunity. We usually have approx. 20-30 people show up each meeting and there is no stipulation to attending our meetings – all are welcome!
For our events, we hold many of them throughout the semester from mentor/mentee events, to fundraisers, to date parties, to community service, to networking trips – we do as much as we can to develop those professional skills and gain lifelong friends in the making.
Sami: Normally we meet every Monday on campus and welcome a guest speaker from the professional world. We also host about one social a month. We also have a peer mentor program, so students are regularly meeting up to help give each other personal and professional advice. We have 40 dues-paying members and between 20-30 usually attend our Monday meetings. We also had executive board meetings every Tuesday to discuss chapter updates.
Q: What are some of the ways you have adapted your organization to make it work remotely?
Sierra: When it comes to our weekly meetings, we have moved them to virtual meetings via Zoom. We have a professional each Monday hop on and teach us what it's like to work at their job, skills they have learned, advice, etc. It's honestly amazing how easily we've been able to adapt because we've always been taught that being adaptable and quick to think on your feet is a crucial skill in the PR world and this is exactly what've done. We are still coming up with ways to have bonding events with our members via technology and I'm excited to get that rolling. Also, we are still doing community service during this time and will be sending hand-written letters to seniors at The Laurels, a senior home in Athens. I am extremely proud of our chapter and all of its members who care so much about this organization to keep working hard and getting the most of out this transitioning time.
Sami: Since the University has canceled in-person events, we have started hosting our guest speakers on virtual Zoom calls and Facebook Live events. Our members have already paid dues for the semester so we want to do whatever we can to make it worth it. We held our executive board elections electronically by uploading their video speeches on Google Drive and sending out a virtual poll. We have also upped our social media engagement by offering some fun Instagram story games like “This or That” and our “MyPRStory” campaign. We still send members weekly email updates with job opportunities and chapter updates as well. We are currently working on planning a “virtual hangout” in place of our socials so we can all connect on a personal level again. We also are looking into creating a podcast to continue providing information virtually!
Q: What advice do you have for your fellow students in this current environment?
Sierra: You do not have to have it all together right now. It's okay to just take each day at a time. I think one of the best things to do to feel "normal" in this situation is to have a couple of to-dos each day – this way you're giving each day a purpose. Whether it's a small task or something you've been wanting to do for a while, do a few things each day to stay productive (it's okay if your product now is different than what it was before). Oh, and USE technology! We are very lucky in the sense that we are still able to talk to and see our loved ones through technology.
Sami: Just keep trying to see the bright side of things. I know for myself and a lot of people we have rarely taken the time to focus on ourselves this much. I think using this time to work on caring for ourselves and slowing down to appreciate our health and our families is something we’ve all needed for a while now. It still doesn’t make it easy or a good situation, but there’s no point in getting upset over it when you can’t change it. Other advice - stay home! Remember that social distancing is for the world - not just you!
Q:How are you maintaining connections among your organization’s members?
Sierra: As I said before, we still have our weekly meetings every Monday and our executive board meetings every Tuesday, so we do communicate on a weekly basis. We are brainstorming events for all of our members to hang out, which is crucial to us because PRSSA is like one big family. We love spending time with each other and will do whatever we can to still connect with each and every member.
Sami: Our executive board is still having our weekly meetings virtually via Google Hangouts so we can discuss how we can help our members. Now that our new executive board has joined us we switched to Zoom because it allows for more people to join than Hangouts does. This, social media and our email updates, as mentioned above are the main ways we are doing this. I also frequently text our executive members and we have extended “virtual coffee chats” to any members who would like to connect to someone on our exec team.